Hiraethog lapwing project

This four-year project aims to reverse the decline of one of Wales' most important upland populations of breeding lapwings and to demonstrate the approaches required to achieve that. Two seasons of breeding monitoring and habitat management undertaken to date.

Young Lapwing on Alistair Robb's farm. Stirlingshire. Scotland.

Overview

Lapwings have suffered major declines in numbers and range across Wales in recent decades. The Hiraethog area (central north Wales) has one of very few remaining significant lapwing populations in the Welsh uplands, but here too, numbers have declined. 
 
Though these birds might have fared better than elsewhere, they remain vulnerable to further losses.
 
Not enough is known of the reasons for these declines, or what might be needed to reverse this situation. What kind of modifications to farming practices might be necessary and what level of effort would be required?  What impact are predators having?
 
The Welsh agri-environment scheme, Tir Gofal, includes an option to manage improved grassland to benefit breeding lapwings, though the prescriptions are basic and resources stretched. It does not appear to have had the benefits which were expected.
 
It would be highly desirable to be able to present better-researched land management recommendations in the scheme’s forthcoming review.
 
The lapwings of Hiraethog provide an ideal opportunity to discover some of these answers and aid their recovery before their decline becomes irreversible.

Objectives

  • Produce a yearly average of at least 0.7 fledged young per pair.
  • Halt the decline in breeding pairs in the Project Area
  • Demonstrate management options which positively influence the breeding success of lapwing within a clearly defined upland area.
  • Demonstrate how agri-environment schemes could be improved or better implemented to conserve breeding lapwing in the wider countryside.

Key Dates

  • 2007 breeding survey - 88 pairs, but only 14 fledged young found.
  • 2008 breeding survey - 80 pairs fledged 30 young.
  • Additional land management undertaken on 12 farms (61 fields) in the winters of 2007/8 and 2008/9 to provide better nesting and chick-rearing habitat, including reduction of potential predator impacts.
  • Significant amount of support for the project in many forms, from farmers and a variety of statutory and other organisations.

Planned Work

The 2009 breeding season monitoring is now under way, though it is too early to tell what kind of season it will be.  Recent dry weather is a little concerning and there seems to be more evidence of foxes in some areas.
 
Habitat management to be undertaken to improve further those core areas on which the project is concentrating.  This could well include longer-term initiatives to ensure continued favourable management.
 
More and better engagement with local communities and the wider public is also on the cards.

Results

Full, five-visit breeding monitoring surveys carried out in 2007 and 2008 covered between 60 and 70 square kilometres, involving between 1,850 and 2,000 fields across about 160 farms.
 
In 2007, the baseline year, 88 breeding pairs were found, to the north and south of Mynydd Hiraethog, but only 14 large young were located. As most of these birds and young were found to the south of Mynydd Hiraethog, it was decided to concentrate the project in this area.
 
In 2008, in this smaller area, 80 pairs were found (a slight increase, in the same area) and 30 large young. In addition to the breeding lapwings and their chicks, a wide range of information is recorded on habitat characteristics, livestock and predatory bird numbers,.
 
The Countryside Council for Wales provides some funding towards the costs of monitoring, for which we are grateful. During the winter of 2007/8 a large amount of habitat management took place in core lapwing breeding areas.
 
This consisted of the following: Half a square kilometre of rush cutting to improve nesting areas; the provision of 125 small, shallow pools and the re-profiling of 2400m of ditches (making edges less steep, but leaving some steeper banks for water voles) to provide more chick feeding areas, mostly carried out by local contractors; the coppicing or pollarding of more than 500 trees and bushes to reduce the potential impact of predators (perching, nesting or hiding places), carried out by farmers and local contractors.
 
In addition to the RSPB's own money, additional funding was gratefully received from Conwy County Borough Council (EU Objective 1) and Environment Agency Wales, who continue to support the project. Further habitat management was carried out in the winter of 2008/9, as follows:
 
  • Half a square kilometre of rush cutting, carried out by farmers and local contractors, as well as by contracted specialised low-ground-pressure machinery;
  • Half a square kilometre of damp grassland received additional autumn cattle grazing to create a more attractive ground surface for nesting birds;
  • A further seven small, shallow pools were excavated;
  • Across both years, this work took place in 61 fields (totalling about 3.5 square kilometres) on 12 farms. Although it is too soon to say how effective our efforts have been, especially when ‘external' factors are taken into account (eg weather conditions, predation, etc.) early signs are encouraging. None of the above could have taken place without a great deal of co-operation and goodwill from the farmers.
 
The role of farmers in maintaining some areas in attractive condition, without the need for additional work, is also gratefully acknowledged. Staff from the local Tir Gofal teams have also been particularly helpful, as have staff from the National Trust's Ysbyty Estate and the Snowdonia National Park Authority.

Partners

Contacts

Coast on a stormy day

Dave Elliott

Upland Lapwing Project officer, RSPB

dave.elliott@rspb.org.uk
Tagged with: Country: Wales Habitat: Farmland Habitat: Grassland Habitat: Upland Habitat: Wetland Species: Lapwing Project status: Ongoing Project types: Advocacy Project types: Education Project types: Species protection