Curlew eggs being incubated at Pensthorpe Natural Park and a newly-hatched chick, left. Pictures: Pensthorpe Conservation Trust

Curlews hatched from eggs rescued from airfields are to be re-homed in West Norfolk as part of a new relocation project in the East of England.

The Natural England-led partnership project is taking eggs laid by curlew on airfields and then rearing and releasing them in the right kinds of habitats for them to thrive.

The Eurasian curlew has suffered significant declines in the past 40 years, but it is hoped the project will boost numbers in the region. 

It is the first time the translocation of curlew from airfields has been undertaken at this scale, with 118 eggs already collected. 

There are 76 eggs being incubated, reared and hatched at Pensthorpe Natural Park, near Fakenham.

The rest will be reared by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) at Slimbridge, in Gloucestershire.

In July, they will be released at sites in Norfolk, including Wild Ken Hill and Sandringham Estate, while the Slimbridge birds will be released on Dartmoor. 

The releases aim to reconnect an existing population in Breckland with curlew habitat around the Norfolk coast, creating a new curlew nature recovery network. 

Some of the birds will be fitted with satellite or radio tags so that the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) at Thetford can monitor their progress after they are released, gathering information on their dispersal, habitat use and survival. 

Working closely with the Defence Infrastructure Organisation and the RAF, staff from Natural England and the WWT have been collecting eggs at eight military and civil airfields across England since late April.

Airfields provide the kind of habitat the ground-nesting curlew would choose to lay eggs, but the eggs – until the project began – were destroyed to prevent air collisions, a spokesman said.

The first chicks have now hatched at Pensthorpe Conservation Trust facilities. 

Chrissie Kelley, head of species management at the trust,  said: “We are thrilled to be playing a part in this incredible journey in aiding the recovery of the curlew. 

“Breeding curlew have been lost across large areas of lowland habitat and are just clinging on in a few isolated areas. In 2018 just six curlew chicks were reported to have fledged across the whole of southern England. 

“Against this trend, being able to save 118 eggs from destruction, to be used for captive rearing and release is a remarkable achievement.”