By Chris Bailey, Advisory Manager, Scotland
On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love said to me twelve drummers drumming. Or was the drumming really snipe? Well probably not around Christmas. “Drumming” is the vibrating call a male snipe makes during the breeding season. I wonder how many people in the UK have heard them or even seen these secretive birds? They are well camouflaged. A medium sized stocky brown bird with long bill and short legs. Their back has delicate light brown stripes with barring on its belly. According to the 2012 State of the UK’s birds there are approximately 80,000 pairs in the UK, 60% of which are found in Scotland. The good news is they are one of the few waders where increases have been recorded over the last few years (23% increase between 1995-2010).
Snipe tend to require soft wet ground, marshy areas or boggy moorland to nest and feed in. Both adults and young feed primarily on invertebrates which include earthworms, leatherjackets, beetles and caterpillars.
Snipe are one of a suite of waders which farmers and crofters in Scotland can receive targeted advice from RSPB staff (the others being redshank, curlew, lapwing and oystercatcher). Working in partnership with the National Farmers Union of Scotland (NFUS), Scottish Crofting Association and SAC Consulting, we have encouraged take up of low-cost options designed to help breeding waders on farmland. This work is under the umbrella of the Wader-Friendly Farming Initiative (WFFI). WFFI builds on a number of existing strong partnership projects which focus on key wader hotspots. Partners on the ground vary dependant on the location of the hotspots but include SAC, Cairngorms National Park, CKD Galbraith, Smith Gore and Scottish Natural Heritage. We provide free advice and support, draw up habitat management plans and submit agri-environment applications on behalf of the farmers. These projects have focused on direct agri-environment funding to areas where the species are know to be at highest densities. There are a number of fantastic examples in Scotland including:
Strathspey Wetland and Waders Initiative Working with farmers on the floodplains of the River Spey and its tributaries.
Clyde Valley Wader Initiative: Working with farmers in the Clyde Valley and tributaries such as Duneaton Water and the Medwin.
Grampian Wader Initiative : Working with farmers in the Grampian region.
Hopefully the results of this advisory work will lead to further increase in the fortunes of this inconspicuous bird.
Snipe: Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
The mellifluous call of the curlew is often described as a pipe, so the piper of today’s tale is this moorland and wetland bird. Although present across much of the UK, the greatest breeding numbers are found in North Wales, the Pennines, the southern uplands and Eastern Highlands of Scotland, and the Northern Isles.
The UK hosts over 30 % of the West European breeding population of this amber-listed wader, but, as on the continent, the UK breeding population is undergoing a marked decline. Between 1994 and 2006 the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) found a significant decline of 37 % in the abundance of curlew across the UK.
We are conducting research to understand the most significant causes of these declines; possible factors include nest predation and habitat loss.
Whilst we continue to research the causes of declines in upland curlew populations, we have developed advice for farmers who wish to help curlews. With farmers help, a healthy future for the curlew will be more than a pipe-dream.
Curlew: Tom Marshall (rspb-images.com)
The leap-tastic hare is an obvious choice for the tenth day of Christmas. I’ve read that they can leap an impressive 2m, but I also discovered (according to Wikipedia) that hares were a traditional gift of love. Perfect for this season of goodwill!
The brown hare is a shy creature that thrives best in open agricultural habitats, particularly arable. Seeing hares boxing early on a sunny spring morning is a joy that I look forward to from these darker winter days – we have a good population where I live, so I’m lucky to see them with some frequency.
Although still common in many areas (particularly the arable-dominated East), hares have declined substantially in the last century. According to DEFRA in 2010, four million hares were leaping across Britain in the 1880’s, but the population has slumped by over 80% – and continues to decline. The brown hare isn’t present in Ireland, but the indigenous Irish hare (a sub-species of the mountain hare, found on both upland and lowland farmland in Ireland) shows similar declines.
There are several potential reasons for this decline, although the primary cause(s) have not been fully established. Possible factors include persecution and habitat changes. Hares feed on tender grass shoots – including cereal crops – so they have been managed as pests for many years. Market forces have driven changes in farming practices that provide less food and shelter, and introduced new hazards such as pesticides and modern machinery.
So the brown hare is a Biodiversity Action Plan priority species, and a number of management options are available under agri-environment schemes, e.g. field margins, beetle banks, overwinter stubble, ungrazed waterside and hedge strips, hay meadows and late mowing.
With the help of wildlife-friendly farmers everywhere, this traditional gift of love will still be around to make our hearts leap on those sunny spring mornings.
Brown hare: Paul Dunn - Glamorgan Heritage Coast Project