Counting stone-curlews

In April 2020, Field Officer Lynne Millard expected to be out on Salisbury Plain monitoring stone-curlew nests. Instead, along with her fellow volunteers and staff on the Wessex stone-curlew project, she was stood down as the pandemic hit. “I was chomping at the bit,” she says.

And what timing – April to June happens to be the most critical period to locate, protect and monitor nesting stone-curlews. It’s also the time to work with landowners to manage nesting grounds and keep track of potential second broods. Stone-curlews have amber conservation status, and they and their young are protected from nest disturbance.

“Unfortunately [the pandemic] took out the first half of the season,” says Lynne. This meant nesting sites and eggs went unrecorded and vegetation unmanaged – it was anyone’s guess where the stone-curlews might have gone. The survey needed a comeback, and Lynne was instrumental in propelling the effort.

By mid-June, Nick Tomlin, the Conservation Officer managing the stone-curlew project could return to work and start monitoring. Lynne made herself available to be the crucial second pair of eyes needed to survey effectively. “Two eyes are better than one,” she says, as one can locate a nest, keep an eye on the bird and talk the other person over to inspect for eggs. Lynne even co-ordinated days out with other volunteers so they could lend a hand too.

As a result, nests and eggs were located, which allowed the team to build a loose picture of what had taken place over the last few months. Because the project is carried out under contract by the RSPB for Wiltshire Council, the data that was gathered helped to secure a contract renewal for 2021 – fantastic news for the vulnerable stone-curlews.

By being ready and willing to be so involved, Lynne was very valuable in achieving anything for stone-curlews in a year where they otherwise would have suffered.

Lynne says, “It gives me huge satisfaction. We’re all in it to try and do our best for the birds.”

Photo by Craig Manners on Unsplash