Curlews on the Ham

Upton-on-Severn is a small town on the west bank of the River Severn (as its name suggests!), south of Worcester. The town itself is on slightly higher ground, alongside “Upton Ham”.

A photo of a field, with a town and hills in the background, and a cloudy sky.
Upton: Ham in the foreground, the town, Malvern Hills in the background. (Photo by John Dickinson)

The Ham is a meadow which regularly floods in winter to take up excess Severn waters.

A photo of a flooded field, with a treeline in the background.
Winter flooding on Upton Ham in March 2023. (Photo by John Dickinson)

‘Ham’ is a word used in the area (Severn Ham at Tewkesbury, Hasfield Ham, Minsterworth Ham) to describe a large riverside meadow that absorbs floodwater in winter and produces a rich crop of hay in summer.  Mainly because of its well-preserved hay meadow vegetation, the Ham has been declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest by Natural England.

A photo of a hay meadow in sunshine, with a couple of clouds in a blue sky.
Hay meadow vegetation on Upton Ham, May 2022. (Photo by John Dickinson)

The hay meadow naturally also supports a variety of birds that breed on hay meadows – Skylark, Corn and Reed Bunting, Redshank, and of course Curlew. It is one of the sites being studied by the Slimbridge WWT Severn and Avon Vales Curlew Project. For some years now, a group of local Curlew enthusiasts has also been watching the Curlews and cooperating with local farmers and land owners, who are equally keen to save these special birds. Upton Town Council has also cooperated in erecting signs on the Ham to remind ramblers and dog walkers to keep to the footpaths; nesting Curlews are very sensitive to disturbance. In previous years events have been held on the Ham on 21 April, to celebrate World Curlew Day.

A photo of three men standing in a field with a sign about dogs and ground-nesting birds.
Colin Ballard (Upton Town Council), John Dickinson (Worcester Curlew Group) amd Mike Smart (Curlew Action) erecting dog-friendly signs on Upton Ham, February 2022. (Photo by John Dickinson)

In 2023 a Curlew’s nest with as many as eight eggs was found at Upton Ham, almost certainly the result of two females laying in the same nest; sadly, none of the eight eggs hatched. In 2024 a nest was once again found on Upton Ham; this nest too came to an unhappy end: a nest camera set up near the nest showed a Raven predating the nest, thus illustrating one of the problems faced by Curlews.

A nest camera photo of a Raven with a Curlew egg in its beak.
Raven predating a Curlew’s nest on Upton Ham. (Photo by WWT nest camera)

Contact was made between the Upton group and Upton-on-Severn CE Primary School, which suggested that a school morning assembly should be devoted to Curlews. So, Ellie Martin of the Worcster Curlew Group (a former pupil of the school), John Dickinson (who designs and erects signs on the Ham) and Mike Smart (of Curlew Action) all addressed an assembly in early May, pointing out the problems Curlews face, the huge natural value of the Ham (with pictures of the many other birds that occur there), and how the children, as local residents and visitors, can enjoy the natural values of the Ham. Two days later, all three accompanied two classes and their teachers on a morning walk on the Ham; it would be nice to report that the Curlews put in an appearance, but sadly, they didn’t.

A photo of a man stood in front of a school group, who are sat on the floor
Mike Smart delivering an assembly on Curlews at Upton On Severn Ce Primary School.

It’s a great pleasure to record that the children of the school have continued to be involved with Curlews: there is an annual artwork exhibition for local schools and groups at Worcester Cathedral, the theme of which this year is: “The sky above us and the world beneath our feet”. All the children across the school were involved in creating artwork. The pictures show:

These pieces of art were displayed at Worcester cathedral from 26 May to 23 June.

Also, not in the cathedral as it is a bit too fragile, is a 1metre x 60cm 3D cardboard Curlew sitting on a nest. Reception class decorated it for display in school.

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