Without doubt one of the most iconic birds of the Yorkshire Dales, with their long, slender, downcurved bills, mottled brown plumage and distinctive melodious call, the Eurasian curlew is the most recognisable of the ground nesting birds that return to our region each spring. Yet due to a 50% drop in their UK population over the last 25 years, they are now designated as critically endangered.

'The facts about curlew make grim reading,' explains Ann Shadrake, executive director of environmental campaigning charity, Friends of the Dales. 'Their UK conservation status became red nine years ago which gives them the highest conservation priority. For them to cease being classified as critically endangered at least 10,000 more chicks need to survive each year than at present. That’s just to flatten off the population crash we have seen for decades. But there are signs of hope, particularly here in the uplands of the Yorkshire Dales as more farmers and conservationists are working together to try to save these incredible birds.'

Great British Life: One of the most iconic birds of the Yorkshire Dales. One of the most iconic birds of the Yorkshire Dales. (Image: Ann Shadrake)

Curlews start arriving back into Yorkshire early each year from their winter feeding habitats of tidal mudflats and saltmarshes around UK and European coasts. By March they return to the Yorkshire Dales re-establishing bonds with their partner and their breeding site. Astonishingly curlew can live for well over 20 years, often breeding with the same partner year on year for decades. Site faithful, they also return to the same farm, and even the same field to breed and raise their young.

As ground nesting birds, their eggs are simply laid straight onto the grassy ground in upland areas of rough pasture, heather moorland, boggy areas or in fields cut for silage or hay.

'The risks to curlew start as soon as the eggs are laid,' explains Ann. 'A mating pair will lay three to four eggs with each parent taking turns to incubate for shifts of 10-12 hours for about four weeks. Parents need to be constantly alert to threats from predators like gulls, crows, foxes or even sheep crushing or sometimes eating the eggs. Dogs roaming off the lead, even just a few feet from a path, can be a real threat, as their natural instincts can kick in causing them to scare the adults off and even eat the eggs. Sticking to paths and keeping your dog under control preferably on a short lead can really help give these waders the space they need to breed successfully.'

Great British Life: A curlew nest. A curlew nest. (Image: Ann Shadrake)

Curlew eggs hatch towards the end of May. Chicks have to find their own food from the get-go, with parents watching for predators which they try to frighten off by chasing and alarm calls.

'Human activity has impacted the decline of curlews the most,' adds Ann. If the curlews nest in a field now used for silage, the eggs and chicks stand little chance unless the farmer is able to spot, mark and avoid nests. '

Friends of the Dales has organised an outdoor art installation and awareness raising event on April 14 by the footpath that runs between Malham village and Janet’s Foss.

Visitors will encounter a clutch of life sized curlews crafted from foraged and recycled wire. Created by the charity’s young campaigners, led by Dales artist Lesley Knevitt, the day long event aims to engage people.

'The wire curlew sculptures look amazing. The team will also be handing out instructions detailing how to make them too, so anyone who is inspired and wants to create their own for their garden or community space can do so – the perfect way to share the message about this incredibly beautiful, yet incredibly vulnerable bird.'