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World Wetlands Day brings new hope for the lapwing

Last modified: 02 February 2010

Adult male lapwing in breeding habitat

Image: Andy Hay

Wetlands, one of the most important habitats for plants and wildlife but also one of the most threatened ecosystems on earth, is celebrated in Shropshire today on World Wetlands Day through the launch of a new project.  

The RSPB, Environment Agency, Natural England and Shropshire Wildlife Trust are working together on ‘Lapwing Meadows’, a new wetland restoration project in the Meres and Mosses area of north Shropshire, funded by Natural England’s Wetland Vision Initiative.  

While a whole array of wildlife will benefit, the lapwing will be the main focus for the project. This wading bird, with its striking white, black and iridescent plumage, has a splendid crest and a spectacular aerial display in spring. 

Healthy wetlands provide unique and vital homes for wildlife and are fantastic places for people to visit. They also supply us with fresh water; they help control flooding and mitigate the effects of climate change. 

Lapwings and other wading birds need wet grassland areas because they provide nesting habitat and abundant insect food for adult birds and their chicks.  Past drainage of wetlands to allow increased food production is one of several issues that have caused real problems for lapwings. 

Since 1970, lapwing numbers fell in the UK by almost 50%, and local surveys have suggested that the species is doing even worse in Shropshire where it has declined by 75% since 1987. This rapid decline has landed the lapwing on conservationists’ list of species of highest concern, the dreaded ‘red list’. 

Mags Cousins has joined the RSPB on secondment from Natural England’s Shropshire team as the new Lapwing Meadows Project Officer. 

She will work with Shropshire’s farmers and landowners to restore and recreate a range of wetland habitats across the landscape that will benefit the county’s breeding lapwings and other wading birds, including snipe, curlew and redshank. 

The project will initially target two areas, Baggy Moor, north-west of Shrewsbury, and Weald Moors, by Telford. Previous wader surveys indicate that these areas show the best promise for habitat restoration for lapwings and other waders. 

A significant piece of work will be the coordination of a breeding wader survey of the area to provide a better understanding of current breeding wader populations and to focus habitat restoration efforts. 

Mags Cousins says: “Lapwings are primarily farmland birds, and this means that the work of farmers is crucial to the recovery of these birds. We look forward to working with landowners and farmers in Shropshire to manage their land in ways that will improve our existing wetlands for wildlife and create new ones across the landscape.” 

Wall Farm in Kynnerlsey near Telford has been involved in Defra's Higher Level Stewardship scheme for 3 years to protect and enhance wildlife. This has included re-creating the traditional wet grassland habitat of the Weald Moors to support threatened farmland and wading birds and developing a network of flower rich hay meadows. 

Georgina Dobson who’s farming at Wall Farm said: “Farmers may not realise that some of the less productive, wetter areas of their farm are vital for lapwing and other threatened birds.  The Higher Level Stewardship scheme can pay farmers to improve these areas for wildlife. If more people can do some of the things we have done here, hopefully we can see many more lapwing back in Shropshire.” 

‘Lapwing Meadows’ is part of the Meres and Mosses Revival Project, which aims to restore and reconnect the Meres and Mosses wetland landscape, which covers northern Shropshire and Staffordshire as well as a large part of southern Cheshire. 

Jan McKelvey, Shropshire Wildlife Trust says: “Shropshire Wildlife Trust has been working with farmers to help lapwing for several years. We are delighted to support this new project.” 

Roger Owen, Regional Director of Natural England said “This is a very important project that aims to stop the decline of this once common and beautiful farmland bird which is now struggling to survive. We hope that more farmers will use the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme – which is designed to work alongside commercial agriculture – to provide the land management that lapwings and other species need to breed and raise their broods successfully. “ 

Simon Cuming, Environment Agency Biodiversity Officer, said: “Protecting, managing and restoring wetlands is vital to safeguard wetland birds, enhance our water environment, reduce the risk of flooding and mitigate the effects of climate change.” 

The visions for ‘Lapwings Meadows’ are not possible without the help of local farmers and landowners. To find out more about the project and how to get involved, please contact Mags Cousins on 0300 060 0570 / 07540 121464 and mags.cousins@rspb.org.uk

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