The endangered Eurasian curlew is being given a helping hand thanks to a recovery project getting underway today in Norfolk.

The project which builds on a successful pilot project last year, rescues eggs laid by the curlew on airfields before incubating, rearing and releasing them in habitats where they have the best opportunity to thrive.

The curlew is Europe’s largest wading bird and has suffered a severe decline in population over the past 40 years.

The eggs collected by Natural England staff and partners are now starting to hatch at Pensthorpe Natural Park and WWT Slimbridge. Later this summer, the fledged curlew will be tagged and released at Wild Ken Hill and Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, while the birds raised at Slimbridge will be released on Dartmoor.

This year more GPS tags and radio transmitters are being fitted to the birds to boost efforts to track their movements and conservation.

As a ground-nesting species, curlew gravitate to airfields which mimic the natural open grasslands they prefer, while security fencing at airfields can also help deter predators such as foxes.

However, curlew nesting close to runways pose a danger to air safety and, until this project began, eggs laid on airfields would be destroyed under licence to prevent the risk of collisions between aircraft and birds.

Graham Irving, Wildlife Management Lead Adviser at Natural England, said:

“At Natural England we want to see nature thriving everywhere. The decline of the curlew is one of England’s most pressing conservation challenges and we’re proud to be leading this innovative project, which we hope will make a significant difference to the fortunes of this iconic bird in the east of England.”

Chrissie Kelley, head of Species Management at Pensthorpe Conservation Trust, said:

“Working together is vital to help reverse the decline of the curlew. Pensthorpe Conservation Trust are thrilled to play a significant part in aiding the recovery of such an important species, by rearing and releasing chicks saved from the airfields.

"This, along with changes to the management of their habitat, we and the partners of this project hope to safeguard the future of the curlew.”