Along with many other farmland birds, breeding waders have been declining across Europe for at least the last 30 years. This is primarily due to agricultural improvement of their favoured wet grassland habitats, involving drainage, fertilisation of grass swards and increases in livestock densities. Agri-environment schemes in several countries have attempted to address these problems by compensating farmers for maintaining higher field water levels and practicing lower intensity farming. However, there is an increasing body of evidence from scientific studies conducted on breeding waders across Europe that high levels of predation by widespread, generalist predators is likely to be limiting wader population recovery in many situations.
There is good evidence from several countries for increases in the numbers of generalist predators such as foxes and corvids over the last 30 years, leading to the situation where, in many cases, habitat restoration alone may not be sufficient to recover wader populations. Analysis of lapwing adult survival rate indicated no appreciable change during 1960-1990 and suggests that insufficient productivity is the main driver of lapwing declines.
There is currently debate at national and international levels on the best way forward to reduce predation on breeding wader clutches and broods and hence ensure that money spent on habitat restoration and management is not wasted. In England, the RSPB, GWCT and Natural England are in agreement that solutions to the low productivity of lapwings and redshank caused by predation are urgently required.
Methods of reducing predator impacts are being developed and trialled by some landowners and other organisations, but these are in large, open landscapes, typically nature reserves. They have focused mainly on predator exclusion fencing. However, this is unlikely to be feasible in all situations, especially river valleys and areas with regular livestock movements, and is only likely to be effective against mammalian predators, not against avian ones.
The Avon Valley is typical of river valley situations where other biodiversity considerations are also important and the feasibility of effectively reducing predator impacts is more constrained by the landscape and multiple land ownership. Our project will inform the national debate by addressing the feasibility of implementing a range of nonlethal anti-predator measures. It will contribute valuable information on the most appropriate techniques, problems encountered and the effort and costs involved.