Lapwing Vanellus vanellus, adult, male in breeding habitat pasture, Northumberland

Lapwing

Lapwings can be found on all types of farmland, but they are more scarce in purely arable or intensive grassland systems.

Lapwings in brief

The UK population of the lapwing fell by at least 40 per cent between 1970 and 1998*.

This decline has been largely caused by the loss of mixed farming and spring cropping,and the intensification of grassland management. Declines in the west of the UK are leading to local extinctions.

*Data source: British Trust for Ornithology

Key points

  • Maintain suitable nesting habitat in fields traditionally used for nesting.
  • Where spring cropping is no longer a viable option, create fallow plots using agri-environment scheme funding.
  • Look out for nests during agricultural operations between mid-March and June.
  • Avoid planting new trees or hedges in areas used by nesting lapwings.
 Lapwing Vanellus vanellus, amongst grass

What this species needs

Bare ground or short vegetation for nesting from mid-March to June 

Lapwings breed between mid-March and July. They nest on spring-tilled arable land or on short grassland with a low stocking rate. Arable nesting birds often walk their chicks onto grazed pasture to feed. 

Lots of soil and ground invertebrates throughout the year 

Lapwings feed mainly on earthworms, leatherjackets, insects and their larvae. They generally feed where they can find lots of these, such as in grazed pasture. Wet grassland is a particularly important source of food. 

How to help

On set-aside

  • In areas with breeding lapwings, seek a derogation from the set-aside rules to cultivate a field or a plot. This should ideally be located adjacent to grazed pasture, away from woods or tall hedges. It should be ploughed in November, or ploughed and disced in February, to create a fallow area for nesting from mid-March onwards.
  • Avoid cutting or cultivating the plot between mid-March and mid-July. In purely arable areas, lapwings can make use of a set-aside derogation plot if the vegetation remains short or sparse through until mid-July. It may be necessary to spray the plot to control the regeneration in May or June. 

On arable land

  • After mid-March, try to avoid destroying lapwing nests during cultivation, hoeing or rolling operations. If a series of operations necessary, try to undertake them within a week, so that failed re-nest safely. 
  • In mixed farming areas, plan the rotation to ensure some spring-sowing or a set-aside derogation plot is located next to grazed pasture every year. 

On grassland

  • Do you have any unimproved pastures where a short, tussocky sward can be maintained with a stocking rate throughout the spring? A high proportion of lapwing nests will be trampled if stock levels exceed one hundred cows per square kilometre between mid-March and the end of June. Heavy grazing from late summer onwards will provide a short sward for nesting lapwings the following spring. 
  • Create or keep damp meadows or pastures. Lapwings find more food on areas which have damp soils throughout the summer. You can wet areas by raising ditch water levels or blocking field drains. Even small wet areas in field corners can create feeding areas for chicks.
  • Growing spring-sown arable fodder crops will benefit lapwings in areas which are largely improved grassland. The spring tillage provides nesting habitat for lapwing and adjacent grazed pasture provides good feeding habitat. Try to avoid destroying lapwing nests during operations after mid-March.
Lapwing Vanellus vanellus, standing in shallow water, Geltsdale RSPB reserve, Cumbria