Curlew – 2019 WeBS

Numenius arquata – GYLFINIR – Breeding resident, winter visitor and passage migrant

It has been well-reported that the curlew is a declining species on a Europe-wide level, to the point that in 2008 it was upgraded by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources to near-threatened status (BTO, 2008). Analyses of the European breeding population suggest that it declined by 24% during the 1990s, with further declines in at least the UK breeding population since 2000.  In Pembrokeshire, it still attempts to breed on Skomer, but has been lost elsewhere.

The curlew is better-known here as a wintering species, but even so, there is a downward trend in numbers.Mid-winter (November to February) counts show a steady decline since the mid-1990s when up to 1500 were counted on the Cleddau Estuary, and up to five hundred on other sites in the county, most notably the Nevern Estuary in the north, and Castlemartin Corse/Freshwater West in the south.  The latter birds may also commute to and from the estuary. The slow decline on the Cleddau estuary system is matched by a similar decline on the Burry Inlet.However, the mid-winter counts tell only part of the story. 

NB. There were no migration-period counts in 1990-91, 1991-92 or 1992-93. Migration-period counts in 2015-16 were incomplete.

As the wintering numbers started to fall, the migration numbers shot up.  The maximum counts made in July-August on the Cleddau Estuary used to be similar to those in mid-winter, but with few birds present in September as the waves of migrants has passed through.  Since the late 1990s, there have been about two to three times as many birds on migration as in mid-winter.  But even these are now declining, so that the Cleddau Estuary is no longer of national importance for its curlew population at any time of year.(This may change when the next round of threshold levels are published) 

No counts were undertaken in August and September between 1990 and 1993.  June-July (and occasionally August) counts since then have been compiled by Jane Hodges while doing an annual breeding shelduck census on the estuary for the PCNPA.  All other counts have been done as part of the Wetland Bird Survey (formerly Birds of the Estuaries Enquiry) by a dedicated team of volunteers.

Annie Haycock (BBS & WeBS local organiser)

Haycock A (2019). A review of the status of wetland birds in the Milford Haven Waterway and Daugleddau Estuary, 2019. A report to the Milford Haven Waterway Environmental Surveillance Group.

More about the Curlew in Pembrokeshire