Last month, it was a great pleasure to welcome Lewis Macdonald MSP, the Scottish Parliament’s species champion for curlew, to the Game & Wildlife Scottish Demonstration Farm at Auchnerran. Also joining us on the day was Chris Hockley, Chief Executive at our near neighbours, the Macrobert Trust.
Outlining the general plight of wading birds in Scotland, we started off by remarking how fortunate we are to have flourishing populations of lapwing, curlew and oystercatchers. Our head of lowland research, Dave Parish, described some of the key attributes around habitat management and predator control supporting these populations. He then outlined specific research activity, much of which revolves around monitoring abundance and productivity – how many birds there are and how many young successfully fledge. This gives us clear insight into the overall health of the population and, particularly, how the birds respond to farming practices developed to fit around them. Dave outlined how lambing and forage cropping both start slightly later at Auchnerran to accommodate the birds’ breeding and nesting season without unduly affecting farm economics.
The tour of the farm was led by our advisor on the ground, Merlin Becker, who explained the importance of blending careful management of habitats with legal predator control to support the waders. Although the impact of predators is substantially mitigated by professional keepering resource over the farm, he explained that we nevertheless monitor what is causing damage.
Commencing near Ballabeg towards the north end of the farm, we were immediately able to spot plentiful numbers of lapwing and their chicks. We could hear curlew all around us in the distance, but they remained elusive to the eye until with perfect timing, a pair flew over our heads in formation as we returned to our starting point.
A lively discussion concluded with lots of interesting questions from our guests, particularly around how we might draw more attention to the worrying decline in wading birds and how more farmers might be persuaded to join collaborative efforts to aid their recovery. We explained that the GWCT is actively involved in curlew conservation work both north and south of the border through a range of initiatives including Action for Curlew and Working for Waders. We look forward to maintaining the dialogue with Lewis in his capacity as Holyrood’s curlew species champion and will continue to promote the need for both habitat management and predator control according to local conditions and requirements.
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