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Boost to lapwing numbers in Nene Washes in 2014

Last modified: 01 December 2014

Lapwing in rushy pasture, Northumberland

Lapwings have been disappearing from lowland England since the middle of the 19th century

Image: Andy Hay

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

Here in Cambridgeshire, numbers of lapwings breeding on land managed by the RSPB in the Nene Washes Special Protection Area were up 25 per cent over 2013, with 224 breeding pairs recorded this year- more than any other RSPB nature reserve in the region.

“This really emphasizes the importance of this site as a stronghold for lapwings in this part of the country,” said Charlie Kitchin, RSPB Site Manager for the Nene Washes. “While numbers fluctuate year on year, careful management for breeding waders and lapwings in particular has meant that the Nene Washes population continues to thrive and buck the national downward trend.”

Known as “peewits” after their distinctive call, lapwings have been disappearing from lowland England since the middle of the 19th century. Changes in agriculture have contributed to numbers of the birds breeding in England plummeting by 80 per cent since the 1960s, resulting in 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.

Just over the border in Norfolk DEFRA has funded 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.

Meanwhile, back in Cambridgeshire, an RSPB project to restore wet grassland from arable farmland next to the Ouse Washes has had huge success. Numbers of breeding lapwings have risen from four pairs in 2002, when the project first started, to 72 pairs this year, and other priority species,  such as snipe and redshank, which were absent as breeding birds in 2002, now have established breeding populations at the site.

“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/

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