HIGHCLERE Castle, the country house made famous worldwide as the setting of television series Downton Abbey, is part of a wildlife project to protect one of the UK’s most unusual birds.
The RSPB Wessex Stone-curlew Project Team has been working with staff at Highclere Castle to revive the fortunes of the stone-curlew, an endangered wader.
Highclere Castle farms manager, James Phillips, has received a Royal Agricultural Society award in the House of Lords for the partnership, which helps stone-curlews to nest safely on the estate’s farmland.
Around 150 pairs of stone-curlews, a third of the UK population, are concentrated in Wiltshire, Hampshire and Berkshire.
Nick Tomalin, Wessex farmland project manager of the RSPB, said: “We have been working with landowners to provide safe nesting habitat for stone-curlew within the farmed landscape, and to protect nests and chicks that are vulnerable to farming operations.
“Traditionally, stone-curlews have nested on very short grass, and these are still important foraging areas. These grassland habitats have declined as pressure to produce more food has led to increased cultivation.
“The team survey areas of potentially suitable habitat and locate nests, then discuss habitat management with a network of around 300 farmers in order to give the birds the best chance of breeding successfully without disturbance.
“When a stone-curlew was found on Highclere estate in 2002, the staff managed to include nesting plots as part of their habitat management by 2004. These were used for the first time in 2007, and by 2012, there were two pairs on the estate.”