Herefordshire Wildlife Trust call for public support to conserve rare wetland birds on Lugg Meadow

Friday 10th March 2017

Lugg Meadow has historically been a breeding ground for curlew as the damp grassland provide their ideal habitat but while their distinctive call can still be heard across the meadow, few pairs of this iconic bird now stay to nest on the site.

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) states that “the Curlew is one of our most rapidly declining breeding bird species showing a 46% decline across the UK from 1994-2010.” In most areas their decline is caused by their breeding habitat being damaged or lost to changing agricultural practices, land drainage or development but the causes for the bird’s decline on Lugg Meadow are significantly different.

As one of the most important surviving Lammas meadows in the UK, Lugg Meadow has been protected from the impacts of the modern world, managed as it has been for centuries with grazing livestock and a seasonal hay cut and is cared for by multiple conservation charities alongside private owners and commoners. It should still offer the perfect breeding conditions for curlew. So what’s going on?

Andrew Nixon, Conservation Manager for Herefordshire Wildlife Trust: “What has changed on Lugg Meadow is the numbers of dogs being exercised there and, as curlew naturally see dogs as predators, this is disrupting their breeding at the site. Last year we witnessed curlew being scared off their nests by dogs running close by on a site close to the meadow. While the nest lay unprotected, crows then predated the vulnerable eggs. With curlew numbers declining it’s really important we make the public aware of the problem. It’s something that could be so easy to solve with the support of the local community who visit Lugg Meadow. It is great to see lots of people out enjoying this beautiful nature reserve – and we don’t want to discourage this – but we are asking that dogs be kept on a lead across the meadow from March to July.”

The curlew (Numenius arquata) is large, tall wader, about the same size as a female pheasant, mottled brown and grey with long, bluish legs and a long, down-curved bill that is pink underneath. The distinctive, burbling sound of the curlew's display call ('Cur-lee') is unmistakable and can be heard from February through to July. The UK supports a year-round population with additional migrant birds overwintering at coastal sites. At the end of 2015, the curlew was moved onto the UK Birds of Conservation Concern ‘red list’ due to its declining numbers.

A spokesman from Herefordshire Ornithological Club commented that, “with the curlew now red listed we are growing increasingly concerned about this species and are encouraging landowners to protect them throughout the county. Any support from the public to protect wildlife would be appreciated.”

Further details:

Birds of Conservation Concern (BoCC) is a collaboration between the Statutory Nature Conservation Bodies (SNCBs), RSPB, BTO, WWT, GWCT and several other organisations. It uses an approach based on quantitative assessments against standardised criteria in order to place individual bird species on ‘Red’, ‘Amber’ or ‘Green’ lists to indicate different levels of conservation concern.

Lugg Meadow lies on the eastern outskirts of Hereford on the floodplain of the River Lugg. Covering 330 acres, it is the largest surviving Lammas Meadow in the country – though it was once much larger.
The land is grazed by Commoner’s livestock until Candlemas on 1st February. The land then reverts to private ownership and between Candlemas and Lammas Day on 1st of August, the owners can take a cut of hay from their various strips and parcels of land, marked by dole stones. This method of inter-commoning is thought to date back to the Bronze Age and is still practiced on the meadow today.
The Lugg Meadow is filled with a wonderful array of wildflowers in spring and summer and is especially well known for its delicate, jewel-like, snake’s head fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris) which flower in April to May and are celebrated at Herefordshire Wildlife Trust’s annual Fritillary Day (this year 22nd April 2017).