I was incensed to read in The Sunday Times on October 31, 2010 that the curlew is currently in season for shooting. There are only a few hundred breeding pairs remaining in the country yet they are considered fair game. They are listed on the Environmental Protection Agency’s website as being “Birds of Conservation Concern”. They are also included on the priority lists of Birdwatch Ireland and of The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. The shooting of curlew has been banned for some time in England, Scotland and Wales where the species is now protected. In June this year Stormont voted to remove the curlew from the list of permitted quarry in Northern Ireland. The Irish Government, on the other hand, not only fails to protect this bird but licenses its slaughter.
The demise of the curlew has been rapid. Estimates are that there are 700 breeding pairs in Ireland now compared to 12,000 breeding pairs twenty years ago. The loss of their habitat and breeding grounds is the most significant factor for the sharp decline in their numbers. The destruction of bogs and the increase in ‘grass management’ by farmers are the main reasons for loss of habitat. Birdwatch Ireland is so concerned that it has started a campaign to help combat the trend. The ‘Cry of the Curlew’ campaign hopes to raise €99,000 to
- Carry out a national breeding survey of Curlews and other waders to find out how many breeding pairs remain and where they are located.
- Fund research into the factors influencing their survival and distribution.
- Devise ways of restoring their unique habitats, such as re-wetting upland areas, clearing them of gorse and scrub, and improving grazing management to benefit their breeding.
- Advocate legislation to better protect Curlews year round.
There are many activists who loathe any kind of shooting, fishing and hunting. I am not one of these but I must query the need for anyone to shoot a curlew. I have never heard of anyone dining on curlew, I have never seen it on a menu in any restaurant and I have not seen it offered for sale in the specialist butcher’s shop in my area – a shop that sells pheasant, kangaroo, wild boar and crocodile. I googled hard and long before I could even find a recipe for curlew. Eventually I found a mention of Roast Eurasian Curlew from a 14th century recipe. If it’s not fit for the table then why shoot it all? I have been told that their flight pattern is low and fast which makes it a challenge for the shooter. Sadly, the rate at which the curlew population is declining will soon render this whole issue moot. After all nobody hunts dodos anymore.
The haunting cry of the curlew is almost prophetic.