Natural England Chairman, Tony Juniper, the Prince of Wales and Chrissie Kelley, head of species management at Pensthorpe Conservation Trust. Picture: Martin Hayward Smith

Prince Charles attended the release of one of the country’s most iconic threatened species – the Eurasian curlew – at Sandringham.

The Prince of Wales’ visit to the royal estate yesterday (Tuesday), which coincided with Norfolk Day, saw him witness a clutch of the rare chicks released.

The Eurasian curlew, Europe’s largest wading bird, is red-listed, meaning it is the highest conservation priority – needing urgent action.

The UK is home to  a quarter of the breeding population – some 58,500 pairs – but its numbers have tumbled since the 1970s due to loss of habitat and predation, with lowland England experiencing some of the most severe declines.

But a Natural England-led project, in partnership with other organisations including the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust (PCT), the Sandringham Estate and Wild Ken Hill in Snettisham, aims to boost numbers.

The project collected 147 eggs from military and civilian airfields and experts ensured as many of the eggs as possible hatched into chicks, and were reared to fledging age. 

More than 80 fledglings have been released at Sandringham and at Wild Ken Hill.

Mr Juniper said: “Curlews have suffered significant declines over the past 40 years and their plight now presents one of England’s most pressing conservation challenges.

“A range of actions will be needed to restore these wonderful birds and we hope that the translocation of curlews at this large scale, a method that has never been tried before, will make a real difference to the population in the east of England.” 

He added: “Today’s release on the Sandringham Estate marks a significant milestone for the recovery of this iconic bird. 

“We’re proud to be leading such an innovative project, which will not only improve the prospects of curlew in Norfolk, but will help inform action to recover curlew across England.” 

Some of the birds have been fitted with GPS or radio tags by the British Trust for Ornithology, to monitor their progress.

Dominic Buscall, project manager at Wild Ken Hill, said: “We’re delighted to be involved in this vital national effort to recover one of our most beloved and threatened birds. 

“This is a large project with many great organisations working together – our contribution at Wild Ken Hill is to provide the headstarted young curlew excellent habitat and safety from predators. 

“We hope they can survive to link up with the hundreds of adult birds that usually spend the winter here.”