Amey joins multi agency conservation project to help critically endangered birds at RAF airfields 

30 April 2020
Image of birds stood in the grass in a conservation park.

Amey and grounds maintenance supply chain partner, Tivoli Ltd, are for the second year taking part in a conservation project to increase the population of the Eurasian Curlew, an endangered bird that has been described as the most important bird conservation priority in the UK. The project is run with the co-operation of Natural England, the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), the RAF and their Airfield Wildlife Control Unit (AWCU) partners, the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), Amey and Tivoli Ltd. 

Natural England developed the project to be trialled in 2019 because data from the AWCU showed that the particular habitat of airfield grass across East Anglia, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire seemed to suit the bird and many breeding pairs were recorded. The nests were a concern for aircraft safety, and they were also vulnerable to predation and accidental damage through mowing. 
The project was developed so that the nests were initially protected in-situ until the clutch was complete and then the eggs were collected and moved to the WWT centre at Slimbridge for incubation, hatching and rearing.   

Amey’s Grounds Managers, Sue Deakin and Catherine Whiteside, attended the Curlew Forum meetings alongside Stuart Lipscomb, DIO’s Regional Technical Officer, to agree the necessary measures to avoid accidental damage to the nests whilst the eggs were being laid. Extra communication measures were put in place to ensure grass cutters could avoid the nests while carrying out their cutting, fertilising and weed killing activities. Sue and Catherine developed a Toolbox Talk for all affected sites for inclusion in the induction as it was recognised that there may be other trades also accessing the airfield grass during this project.  

Sue and Catherine said: “It was great to be involved in such a positive project and particularly pleasing to see the pictures of new born chicks and later, young birds being released into the wild where they belong. We look forward to an even more successful year in 2020 with three new airfields joining the project in North Yorkshire.”   
Stuart added: “The forum was a great opportunity to learn more about the birds and using the knowledge of those in attendance, we were able to identify five further RAF sites where the Curlews were nesting and arrange for the eggs to be safely transported to WWT Slimbridge.” 
The trial has been an astounding success and has increased the UK fledgling Curlew population from six in 2018 to 62 in 2019 – an increase of 1000%. The project has now become the highest British Bird Conservation project in the country and has support from 10 Downing Street and in particular, HRH Prince of Wales. It is hoped that some birds from the 2020 project will be released at Sandringham or Highgrove. 

The success of the project resulted from excellent communication between Amey, Tivoli, Natural England, RAF airbases, the Airfield Habitat Control Units and WWT personnel leading to rapid, appropriate action and the self-perpetuating goodwill and support of the project forum partners. 

A spokesperson from WWT added: “Conservation works best when local groups work together, sharing experience and pooling knowledge and the Curlew Forum works to achieve this across the country.” 
Natural England chairman Tony Juniper said: "Releasing captive-reared Curlews to areas where they have disappeared, while at the same time helping to ensure airfield safety, is an example of the kind of positive partnership that we know is needed if we are to reverse the declining fortunes of many of our wildlife species.”