A THREATENED bird species has found a safe haven on a Wensleydale estate which has seen its numbers soar by up to 1,000 overwintering birds.

Nationally the curlew has suffered a massive 48 per cent population decline, but conservation efforts by the gamekeeping team at the Bolton Castle Estate are paying dividends.

In recognition of their achievements to curlew conservation, the Bolton Castle team were recently awarded the prestigious

NGO Educational Trust

’s Bellamy Award for their hard work and mission to conserve this iconic but rapidly declining species.

The team, comprises of Tom Orde-Powlett the son of Lord and Lady Bolton, head keeper Ian Sleightholm and his underkeeper Daniel Place.

Mr Sleightholm said: “Helping curlew is our number one conservation task on the estate.

"It’s been hugely satisfying to see our hard work pay off when we see more breeding pairs and this award means a lot to the team.”

He added: “We have studied curlew closely on our managed moorland areas and estimate that we have 170 to 220 pairs of breeding curlews and between 200 and 700 birds in the overwintering flocks. "Significantly, occasional sightings of over 1,000 have been recorded.

The Northern Echo:

Bolton Castle Picture: Heather Middleton

“We work with a range of partners and have colour ringed 41 adults and approximately 15 chicks and have had over 100 re-sightings of these birds, the furthest afield being Roscarbery in County Cork. "We have also been working on a trial with the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) which included nest monitoring and developing a new method of surveying called ’Trapline Surveys’.

"This is showing really positive results and helps to identify areas where our curlew conservation practices are working.”

The Bolton Estate was particularly singled out for the BTO study because it was already carrying out extensive conservation work for curlews and it was recognised that on the grouse moors of Wensleydale, where predator control provides protection for young grouse chicks, waders are found to breed at higher densities than in moorland without predator control.

The Bellamy Award, named after the conservationist David Bellamy, is presented to the gamekeeper or estate teams who have done the most to promote the conservation role of gamekeepers.

Brian Hayes, of the NGO Educational Trust, said: “We are thrilled to acknowledge the work they have put in to conserve and support the population of curlew at Bolton Castle through habitat and population management."