The royal family’s Sandringham Estate is hosting a conservation project aimed at boosting the population of the threatened Eurasian curlew.
The Prince of Wales attended the release of a clutch of the rare chicks on the estate on Tuesday, alongside the chair of Natural England Tony Juniper.
Charles said after the event: “I have always cherished the evocative call of the curlew, but it is now dangerously close to being something that our grandchildren will never have the chance to enjoy.
“I am therefore particularly delighted that the Sandringham Estate has been able to assist in a small way the recovery of this wonderful bird.
“This initiative would not have been possible without the tireless work of many people and organisations working in partnership towards a common aim.
“Every curlew nest is something to prize, nurture and protect, and it is utterly vital that we work together to turn this iconic bird’s fortunes around.”
The Eurasian curlew, Europe’s largest wading bird, is listed as “near-threatened” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List index, meaning its numbers are in decline.
The UK is home to around a quarter of the breeding population – an estimated 58,500 pairs – but its numbers have tumbled since the 1970s due to factors such as habitat loss.
In addition, nests found on airfields – that have the open grassland favoured by the ground-nesting species – were destroyed to reduce the risk to planes from bird strike.
Lowland England has seen some of the sharpest declines in curlew numbers, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
The project collected 147 eggs from eight military and civilian airfields in the region in partnership with the Defence Infrastructure Organisation and the Royal Air Force.
The Pensthorpe Conservation Trust near Fakenham, Norfolk, took 106 of the eggs for incubation, while the remaining 41 were taken by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust for a project on Dartmoor.
Eighty fledglings are now ready for release at Sandringham and a second Norfolk site at Wild Ken Hill, in a bid to boost numbers in the Breckland area of the county.
Natural England chair Tony Juniper said: “Curlews have suffered significant declines over the past 40 years and their plight now presents one of England’s most pressing conservation challenges.
“A range of actions will be needed to restore these wonderful birds and we hope that the translocation of curlews at this large scale, a method that has never been tried before, will make a real difference to the population in the east of England.
He added: “Today’s release on the Sandringham Estate marks a significant milestone for the recovery of this iconic bird.”
Some of the birds have been fitted with GPS or radio tags by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) to gather information on their dispersal, habitat use and survival.
BTO senior research ecologist Samantha Franks said: “The varied landscapes of Breckland are a stronghold for curlew in lowland England, but even here, there are too few chicks produced each year to maintain a stable population.
“This unique partnership project can buy us time to understand the specific conservation measures required to improve breeding success, and for a diverse suite of stakeholders to work together to deliver these on the ground.”
RAF inspector of safety Air Commodore Sam Sansome said: “To have over 140 eggs collected from RAF stations was fantastic and to see so many of them now successfully reared and released into habitats that are safe for them, and safe for us, is fabulous.
“It is a real privilege to be involved in such an important conservation exercise.”
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