Update on breeding wader recovery in the Avon Valley

Adult lapwing by Carlos SánchezBy Lizzie Grayshon, GWCT Wetlands Research Assistant

The ‘Waders for Real’ Life+ project was launched this year with the aim of reversing the decline of breeding wetland birds in the Avon Valley.

This project combines a local farmer-led initiative within the private sector (farmers and landowners), conservation charities (Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust GWCT, Hampshire & IOW Wildlife Trust), and the public sector (Natural England, Environment Agency).

The GWCT has been involved in monitoring breeding waders in the Avon Valley for over 20 years. Since 2007, we have collected information on lapwing breeding success on 15 farms.

Colour ringed lapwing chick by Vicki BoultThe Avon Valley is typical of river valley situations where other biodiversity considerations are also important and the feasibility of effectively reducing predator impacts is constrained by the landscape and multiple land ownership.

Our monitoring data from 2007 clearly shows that poor breeding success is driving the decline in lapwings and that low nest and chick survival is the result of high levels of predation.

Wader and predator numbers

This spring and summer numbers and breeding success of lapwing and redshank along with the abundance of predators have been recorded. Individual lapwing chicks were monitored using radio-tracking and colour ringing to investigate survival.

Lapwing nest by Lizzie GrayshonA total of 57 nests were found along the Avon Valley and over 50% of nests hatched. Unfortunately chick survival was poor with pair productivity still below the level required to maintain a stable population (0.7 chicks per pair).

Fox by Mike ShortFrom March to July inclusive, predator activity was monitored more closely than in previous years. On each of the four hotspot areas, timed point-counts during the daytime, and around twilight from strategically located high-seats, provided an index of activity for corvids, raptors, foxes and other predatory species.

Mink rafts set along the main river and adjoining channels recorded mink and otters. Ink-tracking tunnels were set on a grid-system across the surrounding water-meadows and wet grassland areas, to record stoats, weasels, polecats and other small mammalian predators. Approximately 40 camera traps, deployed across each of the four hotspot sites, further added to the picture and generated close to a million photographs.

Improving habitat for waders

The monitoring this year has allowed us to more effectively plan habitat improvement to begin this autumn. EU Life+ funding is being targeted at restoring four ’hotspots’ to optimal wader breeding habitat.

Habitat management has now begun on one of the sites very close to our head office in Fordingbridge. We are working together with students from Sparsholt College Hampshire to connect fields creating more open habitats, suitable for breeding lapwing and redshank.

Habitat management on field site by Lizzie Grayshon

We are also adding scrapes to create ideal chick foraging habitat for lapwing. We hope that with improved habitat we will be able to lower predation levels and chick survival will be noticeably higher over the course of the four year project.

We should also see the benefits of our habitat management in other species such as ducks, invertebrates and bats.

For more information on the project please click here and follow us on Twitter @WadersForReal.

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at 21:28 on 05/10/2015 by R.F. McConnell

AGREE fully with above comment. If you do not prevent predation there is NO value in watching. Improving habitat will not solve it. Clearly the site is suitable for Waders and it is clear that predation is the problem. The EU may be unwilling to pay for the 'control' but are they "Preventing" it / Refusing it being done? If they are 'stopping' the necessary and appropriate action then you will need to Drop the EU and do a proper Job.

Re: Avon Valley predation

at 15:01 on 25/09/2015 by Andrew Hoodless - GWCT

Just so we are clear, this is a wader recovery project, with the aim of implementing new management to reverse the declines of lapwing and redshank in the Avon Valley. You are correct that predation is now widely recognized as a factor limiting productivity, and hence population growth, of lapwings, both on nature reserves and in the wider countryside. Fundamental to the success of our project will be devising effective and practical methods of reducing predation of eggs and chicks. Our proposal to the EU LIFE+ fund incorporated both predator exclusion measures (nest cages and electric fences) and lethal control of foxes, mink and corvids. The EU would only fund the non-lethal measures, meaning that we have been unable to employ anyone to undertake lethal control. However, through training and working closely with local keepers and farmers we are trying to ensure that their predator control is targeted at key sites and is effective. Bear in mind also that we are working in a quite different landscape to that at Elmley NNR: a long, narrow floodplain with many trees and encroaching scrub, as opposed to an open grazing marsh with hardly a tree. Hence, strategic removal of trees which act as predator perches and pollarding willows to create a more open landscape also comprise part of the overall plan to reduce levels of predation.

Avon Valley predation

at 16:18 on 22/09/2015 by Paul Smith

Lizzie, I really find this report frustrating. You have been involved in monitoring for 20 years, you know what the problem is. More intensive monitoring serves no purpose whatsoever unless you do something about it. Merricks is adamant about diligent predator control, with the emphasis on "diligent". What steps are you taking to address the "high levels of predation"?

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