Stone curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus) - Species Action Plan

Ref 1/S7 Species Action Plan 7
Plan Author: RSPB
Plan Co-ordinator: RSPB
31 December 1998 Final Draft
Revised Final Draft January 2006

Action Plan Summary

Current Status

National Status

  • Rare and localised in the UK, stone-curlew numbers have fallen by some 85% since the 1940s and the species is now largely confined to Wessex and The Brecks.
  • Stone-curlew is a Red List species (British Trust for Ornithology et al, 1996), having declined by over 50% in the last 25 years, as well as being a rare breeder and a species with an unfavourable conservation status in Europe (SPEC 3). It is protected under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, Annex 1 of 1979 EC Birds Directive and Appendix II of the Bern Convention.

Norfolk Status

  • Norfolk and Suffolk together held 183 pairs in 2000 (72% of UK breeding stone-curlews). In Norfolk, these are largely confined to the Brecks, although a small population also exists in North Norfolk.

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Current factors causing loss or decline and inhibiting recovery in Norfolk

  • Loss of semi-natural grasslands. The conversion to arable farmland or forestry of suitable short-grazed, sparsely vegetated grasslands, particularly chalk and heath grasslands, is thought to be the main reason for the decline in breeding stone-curlews in England.
  • The reduction or loss of grazing pressure by both rabbits and livestock has resulted in areas becoming unsuitable for breeding stone-curlews as a result of the growth of tall grass and scrub.
  • Changes in farming systems. Breeding can occur on arable land, mostly spring-sown field crops since these retain their open structure (and therefore suitability as a breeding habitat) until June or July. The reduction in spring-sown crops and the general trend of agricultural intensification have led to a reduction in availability and suitability of this habitat. This is a less serious problem in Breckland than elsewhere in the UK.
  • Agricultural operations, such as mechanical hoeing, can destroy eggs and young where nesting occurs on agricultural land.
  • Indirect impacts from the increasing use and efficiency of pesticides (including herbicides, fungicides and insecticides), which are reducing food supplies for wildlife higher up the food chain.
  • Fox, crow and possibly stoat predation, particularly on grasslands.
  • Disturbance, perhaps including traffic (impact of noise and lights from roads), prevents the species using some areas that are otherwise suitable.
  • Egg collecting. The eggs of UK stone-curlews are one of the top targets of those participating in this criminal activity.
  • Other factors, including collisions with fences and utility lines.

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Current Action in Norfolk and Suffolk

  • Most semi-natural heathlands supporting stone-curlew are SSSIs and are positively managed. EN and NWT also manage heathland nature reserves in the Brecks.
  • The Breckland Environmentally Sensitive Area Scheme has encouraged grazing of heathlands for stone-curlew and contained prescriptions for arable reversion. Over 400ha of arable reversion has taken place. The Breckland ESA is now closed for new entries and has been replaced by the Environmental Stewardship HLS Scheme which contains similar options.
  • Stone-curlew is one of a suite of farmland species targeted by arable options introduced in 2002 under Countryside Stewardship. The OS3 option (over-wintered stubbles followed by spring fallow) should benefit this species if appropriately located. Management options appropriate to this species are included under the Environmental Stewardship HLS scheme.
  • The RSPB/EN stone-curlew Recovery Project has been operating in Breckland and north Norfolk since the mid-1980s. The project locates and monitors breeding birds and where necessary liaises with farmers and landowners to protect nests from destruction by agricultural operations. Intervention on arable land has been the single most important factor behind the increase of the stone-curlew population. The Stone-curlew Recovery project is funded by the EN/RSPB Action for Birds in England Programme.
  • Liaison with Ministry of Defence by English Nature and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds; awareness raising/advisory work by Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
  • Management to benefit stone-curlew is carried out and plans have been prepared for many Breckland heath nature reserves by Norfolk Wildlife Trust.
  • Set-aside has been beneficial for stone-curlews. Derogations are available from Defra to permit the creation of bare ground for breeding stone-curlews in set-aside.
  • The Brecks Heathland Heritage five year project commenced in 2001, with the aim of re-creating 300ha of heath from forestry and carrying out management work on a further 6,000ha of Breck heath.
  • The Brecks Farmland SSSI has been notified. Wildlife Enhancement Scheme for stone-curlew plots is being taken up by farmers.

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Action Plan Objectives and Targets


  • Increase the breeding population in the present UK range to 200 pairs by 2000 and 300 pairs by 2010.
  • Encourage recolonisation of the past breeding range.
  • Increase the population breeding on semi-natural grassland to 120 pairs by 2000.


  • Maintain the breeding population in Breckland (Norfolk as well as Suffolk) at no fewer than 172 pairs.
  • Increase the breeding population in Norfolk and Suffolk to at least 225 pairs by 2010.
  • Maintain a minimum of 7 breeding pairs in North Norfolk with a target of 15 breeding pairs by 2010.
  • Consolidate and increase the protection, range and numbers of birds in the north-west Norfolk population.
  • Encourage the re-colonisation of the past breeding range in Norfolk and Suffolk.
  • Increase the proportion of population nesting on semi-natural grasslands and grass heaths to 20% where they would be less reliant on intervention and less susceptible to any future changes in farming practice.
  • Maintain a minimum productivity of 0.70 fledged chick per pair by intervention on arable and reserve management where appropriate.

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