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Land managers’ commitment to endangered waders results in 2021 breeding success - Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust

Lapwing chicks (image: GWCT)
Lapwing chicks (image: GWCT)

Strong numbers of lapwing chicks in the Hampshire Avon Valley this Spring show that a community conservation project has left a lasting legacy, says the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT).

The LIFE Waders for Real project saw GWCT ecologists working with 40 local land managers to protect threatened species and restore habitats in the valley, which is a key breeding ground for lapwing and other conservation red-list wading birds. The project, from 2015 – 2019, succeeded in reversing the decline of lapwing in the valley as well as, crucially, improving breeding success.

“The land managers have continued with many of the conservation measures we helped them put in place,” said Lizzie Grayshon, GWCT lead ecologist on the project, “and, despite the unusually cold Spring, our monitoring suggests there will be at least 100 breeding pairs of lapwing this year, which is brilliant and consistent with the number at the end of the project. The long-term commitment of these ‘working conservationists’ is vital to ensuring the lapwings’ future in the Avon Valley.”

The valley’s farmers, gamekeepers and river keepers have maintained efforts to protect the endangered bird species from predators like foxes, using techniques previously carried out by GWCT ecologists, such as erecting temporary electric fences around nests.

“The farmers are still really engaged with their waders and provide us with regular updates,” said Lizzie. “The fact that lapwing numbers have remained stable since the end of the project shows how, given the right funding, advice and encouragement and by working together, farmers can boost biodiversity in the working countryside. 72% of the land in Britain is farmed, so private land managers must be properly supported to carry out conservation on a landscape scale.”

Avon Valley farmer Will Mitchell, who grew up in the valley, said:”If I find some eggs or new chicks I let Lizzie know and she keeps us up to date on progress elsewhere in the valley – we have a bit of competition now on who has the most lapwing. Each year we’re getting more and more involved with the birds and all the family enjoy seeing the progress they’re making. It’s great to see the lapwing coming back and this year we’ve had three types of egret, a redshank nest and for the first time a pair of oyster catchers.”

The impact of 2021’s cold Spring has, surprisingly, not been all negative for the waders. Lapwing nest on the ground and their chicks are mobile and foraging for food as soon as they hatch. This year’s late cold weather has slowed the growth of vegetation, offering the birds alternative nesting sites, where vegetation would normally be too high for building nests and raising chicks.

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