The Field

Coveys, curlew and a castle

As I step out of my car beneath the shadow of Wegber Scar in Wensleydale, a plaintive whistle pierces the leaden skies. I scour the low cloud for the silhouette of a lone curlew flying purposefully above green pastures at the foot of West Bolton Moor. The haunting whistles are a reminder of the wader’s extensive repertoire of birdsong – it is said to have up to 17 calls – and once heard, who can ever forget the flute-like, bubbling symphony emanating from curlew nesting grounds that heralds the arrival of spring, likened by the former Poet Laureate Ted Hughes to harps hanging over misty valleys.

More than perhaps anywhere else in Britain, this wild and rugged region of the Yorkshire Dales National Park is curlew country. “We have a wide belt of moorland fringe, a few tarns and wet pasture that is ideal habitat for waders,” explains the Bolton estate headkeeper of 12 seasons, Ian Sleightholm, when I meet him. “The farmers plan

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