LOSS OF habitat could lead to the extinction of a number of species of curlew and godwit, researchers have warned.

The world’s godwit and curlew species occur on all continents except Antarctica, but breed only in the Northern Hemisphere. Over half are of global conservation concern, including two – Eskimo Curlew and Slender-billed Curlew – that are critically endangered and may even be extinct, and two others – Far Eastern Curlew and Bristle-thighed Curlew – also threatened with extinction.

A further three that all occur in the UK – the Eurasian Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit and Black-tailed Godwit – are globally near threatened. A recent assessment, published in the journal Bird Conservation International, canvassed the views of over 100 experts and reviewed the scientific literature, to help highlight the threats facing the genus.

All curlew and godwit species nest on the ground in open landscapes. The deterioration of these habitats, for example through changes in agricultural practices, drainage, tree planting and disturbance, is a significant pressure across Europe and North America, exacerbated by increasing populations of generalist predators such as Red Foxes. Climate change is also likely to be an increasing threat through time in both breeding and non-breeding areas.

Director of science at the British Trust for Ornithology and lead author of the paper, James Pearce-Higgins, said: "These long-lived wader species require wild open landscapes for breeding, and generally occupy undisturbed coastal habitats at other times of the year. Many are long-distance migrants and vulnerable to change throughout their annual cycle.

"In many ways, they are among the most sensitive bird species to global change. That over half of the species studied are rapidly declining globally should emphasise to us the impact we are having upon the planet. Their long-term future may well depend upon how well we coordinate international efforts to adopt the recommendations of this paper and support their conservation."

RSPB principal policy officer Nicola Crockford said: “The Eurasian Curlew is an iconic species; its appearance in spring is announced by one of nature’s most evocative calls. Sadly like many UK species the Eurasian Curlew is in trouble, their numbers have dropped dramatically, putting them at risk of disappearing completely from the UK.

“Through RSPB’s Curlew Recovery Programme and BTO’s programme of Curlew research, we are working together, in partnership with a range of people, from farmers and land owners to statutory nature conservation bodies, to reverse this decline.”

EAAFP chief executive Spike Millington explained: “The coastal mudflats of the Yellow Sea are a critical bottleneck for Bar-tailed Godwits and Far Eastern Curlews, particularly during northward migration when they provide the first refuelling points after journeys taking several days from non-breeding sites in Australia and New Zealand. As these sites disappear due to conversion of intertidal areas for rapid infrastructural expansion, more and more birds are squeezed into fewer areas, making their conservation and management an increasingly urgent issue for the continued survival of these iconic species.”