RSPB Farm Conservation Advisor, Bruce Fowkes, tells us about a recent event with the Selborne Landscape Partnership looking at management for lapwings....
Despite freezing cold conditions and an even colder wind, a group of enthusiastic farmers and advisors from the Selborne Landscape Partnership gathered at the Rotherfield Estate on Friday 9th February to discuss management of farmland for lapwings. The Estate is working in partnership with the GWCT to trial and deliver habitats to improve the fortune of grey partridges and other farmland wildlife, so is a great site to look at and discuss habitats on the ground.
The Partnership area has several recent records of breeding birds, not least at the Rotherfield Estate, where 3 pairs managed to fledge at least 6 chicks last year. As one of their target species, the group was keen to discuss practical ways of improving conditions for lapwing in the hope of increasing their numbers in the future.
First stop was a fallow plot created through the Estate’s Higher Level Stewardship Scheme. It had recently been cultivated, and was obviously attracting birds as ten lapwing were spotted there the day before. Discussions focussed on plot location and the need to consider food and cover for chicks as well as open habitat for adults to nest. The current prescription is very much targeted at the latter, meaning that often the chicks have to be taken considerable distances to find food, or in the worst case scenario can even starve.
This freshly cultivated fallow plot is attracting lapwing already, 10 birds were seen on it the day before the event © Bruce Fowkes
The plot in question had established wild bird seed mixtures and beetle banks on three sides, providing a range of opportunities for chicks and adults to find plenty of food and seek cover. A discussion amongst attending farmers led to other good ideas such as sparsely drilled conservation headlands around the outside of plots, or locating them next to grazed grasslands so the chicks could move there after hatching. In the spirit of cluster group working, several members were keen to try new approaches on their land this year and work across farm boundaries to provide the habitats the birds need at a landscape scale.
As well as plot condition and management, the group also discussed the impact of predation on breeding lapwing. It was acknowledged that well managed habitats can help to reduce this, and when several pairs nest together, they are often more successful due to a number of eyes open to potential dangers. However, legal predator control including Larsen trapping and fox control during the breeding season can help, and was something that neighbouring farmers could consider coordinating to be most effective.
Lots of interesting discussions and good ideas were generated by the group © Francis Buner
To help evaluate how any new approaches are working in the future, the final discussion covered fledging rates and monitoring. To be sustainable, lapwings need to produce 0.7 chicks per pair per year, and of course this can only be recorded through effective monitoring. Feeding into the wider SDFBI South Downs Lapwing Project, the Selborne Landscape Partnership have agreed to monitor their sites this year so we can assess how productive they are being. The data can then also be used to inform future management.
Despite this recent cold weather, it won’t be long now until lapwings start to put down their nests. I for one am really looking forward to see how these new improved management ideas will work……..