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Threatened waders enjoy record breeding season in East Anglia

Last modified: 24 November 2014

Lapwing - adult female in breeding habitat pasture

An adult female lapwing in pastureland breeding habitat.

Image: Andy Hay

2014 has been a bumper year for the lapwing, reports the RSPB, with the threatened wader enjoying one of its most successful breeding seasons in recent years on nature reserves and land managed by the conservation organisation throughout the region.

Three Suffolk Coast nature reserves had their highest numbers of lapwings ever breeding this summer: Boyton and Hollesley Marshes had 32 breeding pairs and 39 pairs bred just up the coast at Minsmere following work at the reserves to expand and improve breeding habitats for the birds. 

Known as “peewits” after their distinctive call, black-and-white lapwings 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.

Numbers of the birds breeding in England have plummeted by 80 per cent since the 1960s, leading to lapwings being put on the UK’s Red List of threatened species, but this year’s breeding success has left conservationists hopeful that work to reverse the decline is having an impact.

The RSPB is also working hard to create new habitat for breeding lapwings outside its reserves to help increase their numbers in the wider countryside.

Over the border in Norfolk the RSPB and the University of East Anglia are monitoring the effectiveness of agri-environment management at improving the success of breeding waders in the Broads, where an abundance of wet lowland grassland can provide ideal breeding habitat for lapwings.

By working closely with farmers and private landowners, helping them to access agri-environment schemes and providing advice and practical support to manage land to benefit wildlife, the RSPB is helping to create habitat for wildlife outside nature reserves.

As Jennifer Smart, Senior Conservation Scientist at the RSPB, explains: “increasing the numbers of lapwings breeding in nature reserves alone isn’t going to be enough to help the species recover in the long term, but if we can create and improve breeding habitat outside nature reserves and the birds inside the reserves produce enough chicks, the young birds can go out and establish new populations in the wider countryside from which they have been lost.”

The results suggest the two-pronged approach is paying dividends for the birds, with lapwings breeding in nature reserves able to supply birds to re-colonise the improved wet grassland habitat and re-establish healthy populations across the Broads.

Oliver Berney, one landowner who has been working with the RSPB to manage grazing land in the Broads, is delighted with the results they have been able to achieve: “With help from the RSPB from the planning stages right through to implementation, and access to agri-environment payments, we’ve been able to make changes to how we manage our grazing land that have lead to increased numbers of lapwings and other species without having a negative impact on our bottom line. It’s extremely gratifying to know we’ve been able to make a difference.”

“By combining conservation work on nature reserves with agri-environment schemes in the wider countryside there is every chance lapwing and other wader populations can recover to healthy levels,” said Dr Smart.

More information about the advice and support available from the RSPB to help improve the wildlife value of farmland can be found by visiting www.rspb.org.uk/forprofessionals/farming/.