Friday, 12 November 2010

Hands-off Stonies? - not yet.

Shifting Stone Curlews from arable to good quality grassland habitat is essential.

Concerted conservation action has benefited Stone Curlews in recent years, with the result that it has moved from Red to Amber on the BOCC list.  However, Stonies are not ‘out of the woods’ yet.  This week, we reviewed the 2010 breeding season results from two sites; Minsmere and a location in the Brecks.  It is important that the habitat remains in ideal condition. This is assessed by measuring the percentage coverage of three attributes; a sward less than 2 cm in height, the distribution of Rabbits (measured by density of droppings) and the distribution of stones greater than 1cm in dimension. Despite good habitat at both sites, the end of season outcomes were very different. At Minsmere, six pairs raised seven young, well above the 0.7 chicks per pair considered to be the minimum required to sustain the population. At the Brecks site, four pairs failed to rear a single chick over 8 nesting attempts.
So why the difference? Well, at Minsmere, the birds are protected from predation (mainly by Foxes) by electric fencing and a regular wardening presence. At the Brecks site, the birds have no such protection, and predation was suspected to be the main cause of failure. It is this ‘hands-on’ conservation effort that has allowed the Stone Curlew to recover. However, shifting to a less interventionist policy, with an increasing proportion of birds on good quality grassland habitat remains a challenge.

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