Waders for Real is a collaborative project between the GWCT, Natural England, the Environment Agency and the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, with funding from the European Commission’s Life+ programme, seeking to reverse the decline of breeding waders in the Avon Valley, a river floodplain of high biodiversity interest.
In 1982 the Avon Valley constituted one of the top eight lowland wet grassland sites in England for breeding waders. Since then four surveys at 6-7 year intervals have shown a dramatic decline in numbers of breeding waders, mirroring trends seen across Europe. Numbers of lapwing pairs have fallen from 208 in 1990 to 71 in 2010. Pairs of redshank have dropped from 117 to 22, and common snipe from 29 to one.
Monitoring of lapwing breeding success in the Avon Valley for the last eight years has shown that productivity is currently too low for maintenance of a stable breeding population, owing to high nest predation. To halt the decline of lapwing and redshank, we urgently need to intervene to improve breeding success, which should lead to increases in breeding density.
Lapwing chicks in the nest (Photo: Andrew Hoodless)
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. However, there is an increasing body of evidence that high levels of predation 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 habitat restoration alone may not be sufficient to recover wader populations.
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. However, these methods are 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 non-lethal anti-predator measures. It will contribute valuable information on the most appropriate techniques, problems encountered and the effort and costs involved.
You can read more about Waders for Real in our Research & Surveys section.