Blogger: Dr Rebecca Laidlaw

Last year Dr Jen Smart wrote a guest blog for Martin Harper called “Where have all the waders gone and how are we going to get them back?” In that blog, she identified some key things that will be important if our vision of landscapes with thriving wader populations, such as lapwing and redshank, are to be realised.

Wetland,  Mike Norton

Wouldn’t it be great if we had the time and money to do everything we could to benefit waders everywhere? But the reality is that time and money are scarce, so lots of effort has gone into places where breeding waders still occur, and that just happens to be nature reserves. Now we definitely need to manage those reserves to the best of our ability so they produce a surplus of young waders. But, there would be little point in reserves being wader factories if the surplus didn’t have anywhere to go. Providing great wader habitat on farmland between and around nature reserves is a sensible strategy if we want to fill wetland landscapes with waders again.   

This sounds like we have this whole problem worked out, doesn’t it? But it’s complicated because our research tells us that waders are also limited by predation. The focus of our current research is to understand whether the way we manage wet grassland landscapes has any influence on wader predation. When we look at this over a large number of years and at the scale of a nature reserve, we find that lapwing nests that have lots of neighbours, in wet areas that are close to patches of tall vegetation are more successful. We think this is because more neighbours equals more eyes and better defence, water may make it difficult for land predators to move around and that patches of tall vegetation provide alternative food for the predators in the form of small mammals. But, maybe we are still thinking too small in terms of scale, after all generalist predators like foxes move over very large areas. Also, there could easily be differences between nature reserves and farmland in the way that predators affect waders, there are far fewer waders, the grasslands are drier or the other food available to predators may differ. So we are scaling up our research to consider these processes across whole landscapes, but to do this our most important partners are farmers.

Lapwing, Kevin Simmonds

Across the Broads, RSPB and UEA with assistance from Natural England, are working with forty farmers and other grassland managers in an ambitious research project to understand whether the way these farmers are managing their wet grasslands for waders has any influence on how successful those waders are. This project started in 2013 and is funded for two years by Defra

Last week I found myself in a village hall in the Norfolk Broads with a great bunch of farmers, land agents and conservation managers discussing our research work and landscape management for breeding waders. The event was really just a way of saying thank-you to everyone involved so far and a great opportunity to gain feedback about last years research and to talk about plans for the coming breeding season.

We also heard about a great initiative called Broads Land Management Services, where RSPB staff use their specialist knowledge and equipment to help farmers in the Broads deliver the right sort of management for breeding waders. How do farmers fund this sort of management? Fortunately, agri-environment schemes such as Higher Level Stewardship provide the financial support for exactly the sort of special management measures that waders need.

While it was good for us to be able to describe our research work face-to-face, the highlight for me was when we opened up the discussion. It quickly became clear that while individuals will be able to do their bit for breeding waders, thriving wader landscapes will only be possible with co-operation between different landowners, often with different priorities. Days like this give me real hope that by working together and talking to one another we can highlight any practical issues we might face when it comes to implementing our research findings. Hopefully this means that breeding waders will be able to benefit from our research – and soon!