THE unmistakable haunting call of the curlew is continuing to be heard across the hay-meadows of the Somerset Levels and Moors – bucking the national trend.

This year over 40 pairs of curlews nested across the flatlands of Somerset –with figures holding steady for the last 10 years.

A quarter of the world’s curlew breed here in Great Britain - but nationally numbers have been in free fall decline, largely due to habitat degradation, and work is ongoing across their range to help save them from extinction.

In Somerset landowners, farmers, Natural England, The RSPB, and local volunteers have all been working together to ensure that the plaintive bubbling cry of the birds continues to be heard for future generations.

The RSPB has been co-ordinating teams of volunteers to undertake specialist surveys and provide the information on the curlew’s nesting locations to farmers so that haying can be held off until the nests hatch and their chicks have fledged.

Sam Mitchell, a farmer with land adjacent to Kings Sedgemoor, explains: "Since we put the land into the Higher Level Stewardship it’s been a delight to hear the distinctive sounds of snipe and curlew more regularly on the fields once again, I am very keen to do anything I can to assist to assist the wildlife of the Levels and Moors.”

Robin Morrison, a local volunteer and nature photographer describes this work: “Being part of the team has provided the chance to learn so much about the behaviour and calls of these birds in their natural landscape.

"I'm looking forward to continuing this work next year, and ultimately seeing numbers of these waders increase.”

This service is also helping to protect another enigmatic bird of the Levels – the snipe.

Snipe are a long-billed wetland bird that perform a curious and magical display flight in the half-light of dusk or dawn, vibrating their tail feathers to produce an ascending bleating noise.

Snipe numbers have been steadily increasing in the hay meadows of the Levels over the last 10 years to 150 pairs, with 90 on West Sedgemoor and 30 on Kings Sedgemoor – a record for the site - where careful water level and farming management have shown great results.

Snipe can nest well into July and even into August – so having a sympathetic farming regime supported through environmental stewardship payments is essential to maintain their numbers.