SCOTTISH gamekeepers' efforts to get the curlew off the species red list are paying off, with an improved number of sightings on moors across the country.

Conservation training, moorland management and favourable weather conditions this year have all played their part in helping to safeguard the species, which is Europe’s largest wading bird, recognisable by its long downcurved bill, brown plumage, spindly legs and distinctive call from which it derives its name.

Scotland’s gamekeeping community, supported by the Gift of Grouse campaign, has been making a concerted effort in wader conservation and setting the ground-work for a nationwide scientific study of moorland waders to commence in 2017.

Candacraig Estates head gamekeeper Leslie George said: “Our dedicated team of keepers have worked tirelessly over the past 15 years to make improvements to the moorland and as such we have spotted around 60 pairs of curlew on Candacraig this season.

“There is also evidence of a high number of returning breeding pairs, after wader migration, who have shown success at raising their young in the optimum moorland habitat. This has been created over the years as a result of muirburn and carefully planned predator control.

“We are one of a cluster of estates in the Grampian Moorland Group, including Invercauld, Gairnshiel, Dinnet, Glen Dye and Finzean, that are making determined efforts in helping create favourable wildlife areas where some 314 pairs of curlew have been recorded across these estates, with young now sheltering in the heather.”

Additional observation counts conducted across Scotland’s regional moorland groups this year have raised hopes of a good season for curlew. On two estates in Angus, approximately 106 pairs were counted, whilst a recent spot count across Loch Ness and Tomatin noted 149 adult curlew and on three estate beats in Tayside roughly 77 pairs were recorded.

Lochan Estate gamekeeper Kevin Dickie added: “We recorded a total of 45 breeding pairs of curlew on just one of the three beats on the estate which is part of the Tayside and Central Moorland Group. This is a dense population for an area of moorland that totals around 3000 acres and in my opinion demonstrates that given the correct habitat, we should hopefully see an increase in wader numbers on Scottish moorlands if efforts continue.”