- The £90,000 will help improve farmland habitats and monitoring of threatened waders
- Extensive farming, agri-environment schemes and predator management are important factors
- But the breeding success rates are still too low
- The group will collect data on stocking rates, grazing techniques and soil characteristics and how they interact with bird nesting, hatching and causes of nest loss
The £90, 000 of funding will allow a package of work to improve farmland habitats for the birds and undertake monitoring to better understand how these threatened birds are faring across the Lanarkshire and Ayrshire uplands. Globally, Scotland and the UK are a significant home for waders, yet here they are in steep decline, with two thirds of curlews and half of lapwings lost in Scotland since 1994.
The group of 17 South Lanarkshire and East Ayrshire farmers were initially part of the RSPB’s Clyde Valley Wader Initiative, which saw them work with SAC Consulting, part of Scotland’s Rural College, to help direct agri-environment funding to farmers in wader hotspots. The parties then worked with the Soil Association Scotland- led Rural Innovation Support Service to carry on and expand the work.
Senior conservation advisor with RSPB Scotland, Dan Brown, who will manage the new project, said the reasons for the birds nesting in the area were varied, but extensive farming systems, agri-environment schemes and predator management were the most important factors. He said: “Scotland is a key country for these species, and the agri-environment schemes have been a key delivery mechanism for their survival outside of nature reserves. But their breeding success is still too low, so we need to understand and quantify what works, to better target the schemes and future management.”
Picture: Eurasian curlew foraging. CREDIT: Dan Brown, RSPB
He says the BCF funding will allow the group to collect data on stocking rates, grazing techniques and soil characteristics and how they interact with bird nesting, hatching and causes of nest loss.
In 2019, as part of a work placement at RSPB, Glasgow University student Stephen Inglis carried out a study of 100 fields and recorded 130 nests, and found that for lapwings, for example, the hatching rate was nearly 2.5 times higher on fields in agri-environment schemes than on fields in no schemes. However, overall less than 20% of nests were successful, which is too low to support the population if repeated over several years.
Jennifer Struthers of SAC Consulting, part of Scotland’s Rural College, facilitated a Rural Innovation Support Service (RISS) group that met to continue investigating. She says: “RISS provided a forum for the farmers to come together and see what they could do to improve the situation. They care about having the birds there – I can’t put into words how enthusiastic they have been.”
Through the RISS meetings the group met PhD student Emma Sheard, of Stirling University, whose research indicates that liming soil may bring certain earthworms to the top, attracting waders. Other research showed silage fields that were shut off from livestock had higher survival rates than those with some livestock, leading researchers to wonder if livestock presence may inadvertently attract predators to fields with the bird nests.
As well as the project with the RSPB, the farmers will carry out soil sampling, invertebrate counts and compaction testing over the summer with Jennifer Struthers, and will also help the British Trust for Ornithology, part of the Working for Waders initiative, with refining their monitoring.