A review of Soft Rush Juncus effusus management for breeding waders
Severe declines in wading birds, including Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus, Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata and Redshank Tringa totanus, have been described in recent decades. Declines are often attributed to low breeding success, with agricultural intensification and increased clutch predation quoted as causal factors. Conservation measures to improve breeding habitat have included raising water tables and creating a more diverse sward structure. The latter is often achieved by managing the encroachment of Soft Rush Juncus effusus. We review the literature on wader breeding habitat and consider how rush may be best managed to improve sward structure for waders. Rushes can provide cover for both nests and chicks, but, depending on species-specific requirements, may, if too dense, reduce both nesting and foraging opportunities. Rushes can be managed mechanically by cutting, chemically using herbicides, or by manipulating the timing and intensity of grazing by livestock. For cutting to have maximal effect on reduction of rush biomass and regrowth, the cut should be as short as possible and repeated or combined with livestock grazing, especially that by native breeds. However, some areas of rush should either be left uncut or regrowth timed to offer foraging and sheltering opportunities for waders. The optimal size and pattern of such areas, together with rush regrowth rates following treatment requires further research. Herbicides should only be applied using a weed wiper that allows precise application, thus avoiding impacting upon non-target vegetation and possible run-off into water sources. Sward management should be conducted outside the period April to June to avoid disrupting breeding birds.