Wading birds do not literally spend their lives knee-deep in water, although most of them have an affinity for coasts or wetlands at some point in the year. Research by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust has focused on an unusual and widely hunted wader, the Eurasian woodcock (Scolopax rusticola) for over 30 years, but includes work on common snipe (Gallinago gallinago) and on declining breeding waders in the uplands and lowlands of England, particularly the Northern lapwing (Vanellus vanellus).
The woodcock is unique in that it is closely associated with woodland throughout the year, with deciduous or mixed woodland preferred to conifer forests, particularly during the breeding season. Our early work on woodcock was concerned with the basic ecology and habitat requirements of the species. The current focus of our work on this species is on understanding population numbers and trends and examining woodcock migration across Europe.
Waders associated with damp grassland have declined dramatically over the last 40 years as a result of agricultural intensification, particularly in lowland England. Breeding snipe have disappeared from many counties and redshank (Tringa totanus) and lapwings are now concentrated at relatively few, specially managed, sites. Lapwings will breed on arable land as well as wet grassland, but populations here have declined dramatically too in recent years, such that the lapwing is now red-listed as a bird of conservation concern. There is increasing evidence that predation of nests and chicks may be preventing population recoveries. Our work on lapwings has the aim of determining the causes of poor productivity both on wet grassland and arable land and finding solutions to assist with population recovery.
While breeding snipe numbers in lowland Britain have declined steadily since the 1950s, probably because of wet meadow drainage, increased stocking rates and silage production, snipe still breed widely across the uplands of northern England and Scotland, albeit at relatively low densities. We have undertaken some work to examine the relative importance of moorland habitats to breeding snipe.