by Mary Colwell
Curlews with their long curved bills are Britain’s largest wading birds. Their plaintive calls, celebrated in both verse and music, are the sound of the British wilderness – a haunting song which is the springtime music of our uplands, moorlands, marshes and seacoasts.
But so fast has been their fall in numbers that the curlew has now been put on the Red List of the UK’s most endangered birds. Over the last 22 years the curlew has declined by more than 50 per cent across England and Scotland and by more than 80 per cent in Wales and Ireland and it is now sliding rapidly towards extinction.
To raise awareness of the curlew’s rapid decline and funds for its conservation, Mary Colwell, a nature writer and long established producer at the BBC Natural History Unit, went on a 500 mile walk from the West of Ireland to the East of England to track these elusive birds and observe them in their different habitats. CURLEW MOON is the account of her journey. Starting in the early spring, when birds are first arriving at their breeding grounds in the west of Ireland, she then walks to Wales, where they incubate their eggs. She makes her way through England to coincide with the time when chicks are hatching and six weeks after setting out she arrives in East Anglia as the fledglings are beginning to try out their wings. Finishing on the east coast, she marks the place where many curlews come to spend the winter.
Curlews need wet, rough pasture to nest, and their decline has largely been driven by loss of this habitat – in Ireland, by the stripping of boglands for peat and elsewhere, by widespread forestry planting and other developments which have destroyed nesting sites, including increased predation by foxes and crows. But although their decline has been drastic there is still time to do something about it. Weaving an evocative tale of discovery interspersed with the natural history of the curlew, CURLEW MOON focuses a light on the plight of this iconic bird which so desperately needs our help.
‘In this empowering account of a walk that focuses a razor light on the plight of one of the UK and Ireland’s most iconic birds, Mary Colwell adds a powerful fresh voice to the conservation debate and challenges us to think and act differently. Inspirational!’ Tim Birkhead
‘Curlew Moon is a book with an urgent and important message’ Times Literary Supplement
‘Well-crafted and thoughtful … meticulously researched and charmingly illustrated’ Country Life
‘Readable, highly informed and heartfelt … Colwell has lovely poetic insights’ Mark Cocker, Spectator
‘An odyssey for an age of extinction’ Guardian
‘A fascinating blend of Curlews, agricultural history, culture and poetry – written beautifully’ Graham Appleton, Wadertales blog
About the Author
Mary Colwell makes programmes for the BBC and the independent sector, mainly on nature and the environment. She recently featured in BBC Wildlife’s UK 50 Top Conservation Heroes awards.