Living Uplands

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Birds at risk

25th May 2019

A group of Young Volunteers from Durham Wildlife Trust has completed the first weekend of bird monitoring on our Upland, the third successive year.

As we noted previously the mild winter and decent spring is a significant improvement on the difficult conditions ground nesting birds faced in 2018. With anticipation our team went to the designated locations on a Saturday morning in May.

The good news is that there was an excellent showing of Curlew, on the red list of endangered British birds, of Lapwing, Oyster Catchers, and with the warmer weather, swallows.

The poor spring conditions in 2018 hadn't impacted so much on the nesting conditions for the Curlew or Lapwing, and it is especially encouraging to have spotted so many Curlew and Lapwings on this first outing.

A note of caution. The sudden removal of the 'General Licence' has removed an important means of managing predator populations on the uplands, specifically corvids (various crow types).

The type of deterrent methods that might be suited to a cornfield are less useful on a high moor. Added to which on the high moor we are encouraging nesting birds and don't want to establish something that would scare off birds when we want them to nest.

Even if there were alternative deterrent methods that might reduce 'only' the corvid population, the sudden removal of the General Licence means that there has been no time to test or place such methods. Our ground nesting birds had already landed.

Predation of eggs - a tasty source of food for corvids - is likely to increase. We have to wait and see how that impacts on overall numbers, but it may be 2020 before we understand the full impact.

This moor has worked with Natural England for over 12 years in developing habitat and helping secure a wide range of birdlife. That is a managed process. It is a fact that such a balance of nature is secured when it is well managed, particularly when the common purpose is to assure a healthy habitat for endangered birdlife.

It is ironic that the same Agency that has supported our healthy managed moorland, suddenly and without warning, has removed an essential feature of that success with no alternative in place. Hopefully DEFRA and Natural England will move quickly to address this threat to the delicate balance our years of hard work has delivered.