In England and Wales, an estimated 97% of all unimproved lowland grassland was lost between 1930 and 1984. The extent and nature conservation value of lowland wet grassland has continued to decline over the last 30 years. This degree of historic loss, combined with the relatively small remaining resource, has led to unimproved wet grassland being considered as one of the most threatened habitats in lowland Britain.
Nationally, large sums have been spent on habitat restoration for breeding waders through the Higher Level agri-environment scheme and now Countryside Stewardship. However, this is not always delivering wader recovery and the effects of this management on other taxa are poorly understood. The Avon Valley in Hampshire and Dorset has historically supported nationally important populations of breeding waders and a wide range of other biodiversity, including nationally rare invertebrates. We are working with farmers in the Avon Valley on recovering numbers of breeding waders and this provides a unique opportunity for complementary work examining the effects of management on other key floodplain species.
Invertebrate communities within the Avon Valley are poorly documented and understood, but the soil invertebrates are key food items for the breeding waders. Our recent radio-tracking of lapwing chicks has highlighted the importance of suitable feeding areas to chick condition and survival. The aim of this project will be to examine the effects of field condition and past management on soil invertebrate communities and the food resource they represent for birds. The project will involve soil sampling and pitfall trapping across a sample of 80 hay and pasture fields where we have good information on floristic diversity, livestock rates and past management. Sampled invertebrates will be identified to species or family in the laboratory and additional potential explanatory variables, such as vegetation structure and soil moisture content, will be measured in the field.
There will be the opportunity to examine lapwing diet data from the Avon Valley in relation to sampled invertebrate abundance. Frequent measures of soil penetrability through the wader breeding season will be used to model temporal change in the accessibility of different soil invertebrate taxa to waders.
Fieldwork will be conducted in April-June. You will be part of a small team but should be self-motivated. Invertebrate identification could be conducted at the GWCT or your university.
One place available, based at Fordingbridge or university. A driving licence is essential and a vehicle will be available for fieldwork.
Dr Andrew Hoodless