Instantly recognisable with its down-curved bill, long legs and haunting call, the curlew has been a familiar sight on Scotland’s grasslands, moorlands and bogs.

Now the bird is one of the country’s most threatened species due to loss of habitat with a decline of more than 60 per cent in Scotland over the past two decades – but a new project aims to help save the population.

The Curlews in Crisis project has been awarded more than £156,000 from the Scottish Government’s Biodiversity Challenge Fund.

The money, distributed by the nature agency Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), will help increase suitable breeding areas and reduce predation for Europe’s largest wader and one of Scotland’s most distinctive birds.

The project, which links to other work in Scotland aiming to halt the decline of the iconic upland grassland species, will focus on two special nature sites, in the Highlands and near Muirkirk in East Ayrshire.

Scotland is now home to an estimated 15% of the world’s breeding population of curlews, which has been severely impacted by changes to farming practices and intensification.

Farmers in the project area at Airds Moss Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in East Ayrshire have been working with SNH and RSPB Scotland to help biodiversity for more than a decade.

Curlews in Crisis will continue to work closely with farmers to increase and manage quality habitat for the waders, through rush control and vegetation thinning.

Anne McCall, director of RSPB Scotland, said the funding announcement was “fantastic news”.

She added: “This unmistakable bird desperately needs help. Our project will bring immediate short term benefits for curlews in Caithness and Ayrshire and allow us to learn more about the causes of the species’s rapid decline.

“Farmers at the Ayrshire site have done excellent work for nature in recent years and we’re really looking forward to continuing this partnership.”

The aim of the Biodiversity Challenge Fund (BCF) is to enable targeted action for priority habitats and species, accelerating efforts that will help Scotland meet its international biodiversity commitments.

It specifically encourages applicants with innovative projects that improve biodiversity and address the impact of climate change, by increasing the resilience of our most at-risk habitats and species and creating large areas of brand new habitat.

The curlew (Numenius arquata) was once a common sight on uplands and coastlines, and its “haunting” song was used to introduce BBC Radio’s first ever natural history programme, The Naturalist, in 1946.

Its dramatic decline has been attributed largely to changing land use and predation of the birds’ eggs and chicks.

Now on the UK’s red list of species of greatest concern, the curlew has been described as the “most pressing bird conservation priority in the UK”.

Curlews in Crisis is one of 14 successful projects across Scotland to share the £1.8 million committed by the BCF in the first year of its two-year period. The projects will take practical steps to improve natural habitats, safeguard plant and animal species and improve biodiversity.

The announcement comes after an additional £2m funding was made available by the Scottish Government for further ambitious ideas to improve habitats, safeguard species and tackle the causes of biodiversity loss, as the BCF opens its latest round for fresh applications.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “I am delighted that through the Biodiversity Challenge Fund the Scottish Government and SNH can support these fantastic projects across the country to safeguard some of our most vulnerable species and habitats, and protect them from invasive species. Their success will play a crucial role in our efforts to improve nature and help Scotland meet its international biodiversity commitments.”

SNH chief executive Francesca Osowska said: “People know that climate change is a big issue but not as many know that biodiversity loss is also a global and generational threat to human well-being.

“But it’s not just about conservation – enriching our nature is also part of the solution to the climate emergency too. Nature is at the heart of what we do, and we will continue to deliver the transformational change needed to bring a nature-rich future for Scotland.”