Lapwing are often thought of as a bird of wet grasslands, but on the South Downs, a large part of the population breed on the drier chalk soils. For this they prefer to use bare or sparsely vegetation soil, where they make a tiny scrape to lay their eggs. As we are now in March, and the weather seems to be warming, it won’t be long until nests will start to be put down.
|Lapwing nests are very simple, consisting of a small scrape in the ground c.Nigel Blake (rspb-images.com)|
Many lapwing on the Downs nest on ELS and HLS fallow plots, which provide an undisturbed area for them to go about their business. If you have any on your farm, and haven’t done so already, a light cultivation to create an undulating surface will provide the ideal nesting habitat.
As well as the plots, many lapwing nest within arable crops, including spring cereals and maize. Unfortunately, these habitats are not quite as ideal, as it puts them at risk from farm operations. Cultivations, drilling and rolling throughout the March-May period can all have an impact on nesting birds.
In these instances, some farmers on the Downs go the extra mile and mark nests that they come across. This allows them to be avoided during future fieldworks, and gives the lapwing a higher chance of nesting success. This is easier said than done, as lapwing nests are well camouflaged and not easy to see. It is often the presence of an adult bird lingering in a specific area, or even sitting tight until the last minute, that will give them up.
|Keep an eye out for sitting birds when looking for lapwing nests c. Chris Knights (rspb-images.com)|
Records of lapwing on the South Downs over the last few years suggests that the population is not faring very well. There could be many reasons for this, and we are hoping to start a new project next year to find some answers (watch this space for more information). However, in the meantime, any nests you are able to identify and work round will give this enigmatic bird a much needed helping hand.