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Lapwing numbers boosted by RSPB nature reserves

Last modified: 21 November 2014

Female lapwing in rushy pasture, Northumberland

Image: Andy Hay

Conservationists are thrilled that lapwings, birds which have been disappearing from the UK, have had a successful 2014 breeding season in grassland habitats managed by the RSPB.

Lapwings belong to a group of birds known as waders: typically long-legged birds which generally feed at the water’s edge or in wet grassland. 

The RSPB manages a number of sites in lowland England where the birds nest, including Otmoor in Oxfordshire and Rainham Marshes on the outskirts of London. The wildlife charity has also been working on Great Bells Farm on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent, converting 160 hectares of poor-quality farmland into a freshwater nature reserve. 

In 2014, many of the RSPB’s sites were able to announce lapwing breeding successes, thanks to land management based on knowledge built up over decades across RSPB nature reserves, in lowland England.

Known as 'peewits' after their distinctive call, black-and-white lapwings have a ‘red status’ in the UK, which means that the speed and nature of their decline is causing concern. 

These birds have been disappearing from lowland England since the middle of the 19th century. The most recent falls in numbers of lapwings is due to changes in agricultural land use. From the mid 1980s they began vanishing from south west England and parts of Wales. This year, numbers of lapwings breeding on RSPB lowland wet grassland reserves grew, with a higher number of chicks fledging, giving conservationists hope that these birds face a brighter future.

Ground works at Great Bells Farm were completed in 2013 and hundreds of birds immediately stopped by for the winter. This year’s breeding season at the site included 25 pairs of lapwings, raising 26 chicks, the number conservationists had hoped for.

Martin Harper, RSPB Director of Conservation, said: 'In my lifetime the lapwing has gone from a widespread countryside bird to one increasingly confined to nature reserves. It’s challenging to manage land for lapwing, so seeing an increase this year is especially welcome. 

'It gives us hope that this engaging species may in time be able to turn a corner as a nesting bird in lowland England, especially if land managers can be encouraged to get the most from wildlife-friendly farming payments.'

Find out more: Wader success in North Kent

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