Lapwing landscapes

Lapwing Landscapes is a pioneering project, which has set targets to double numbers of breeding wading birds across the Upper Thames Tributaries over a 10-year period, working hand-in-hand with farmers, landowners and partner organisations.

Lapwing Vanellus vanellus, adult with wings raised, Geltsdale RSPB reserve, Cumbria


The Upper Thames Tributaries encompasses an area of approximately 270 square miles of river floodplain, which flows towards Oxford. This area has historically supported large populations of breeding waders such as snipe, redshanks, curlews and lapwings. However, a survey started in 1994 and repeated in 1997 and 2005 showed all four species had suffered significant declines.
The project builds on the success of works at the RSPB’s Otmoor Nature Reserve, initiated in 1997, which remains the breeding wader stronghold in the Upper Thames. Since its launch, the project has worked successfully with more than 200 farmers and landowners to restore wetland habitat across the area.
Funding for farmers to manage their land to benefit breeding waders became available through the Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) scheme in 1997 and is now available through Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) once these agreements end. So far, 32 farms have entered HLS in the Upper Thames area. More will be added to this as ESA agreements come to an end.
The schemes aim to provide habitats with suitable vegetation structure and water levels to attract breeding wading birds. There are options in the schemes to manage grassland appropriately and capital payments to install water level control structures, such as sluices, and create wet features, like shallow scrapes, to provide feeding areas for chicks.
One machine which has been used extensively across the Upper Thames Tributaries and beyond is the RSPB’s rotary ditcher, which is a giant rotating digger pulled by a tractor. The ditcher is 10 times faster than a conventional digger and chisels accurately through the land to create shallow ditches and pools.
This provides an opportunity to enhance biodiversity by creating new wetland features which will in turn increase the number of breeding waders on a site. Depending on soil type and ground conditions, the machine can complete between 300 and 400 metres of ditch per hour.


  • To double numbers of breeding wading birds across the Upper Thames Tributaries over a 10-year period.

Planned Work

RSPB volunteers have been monitoring wading bird populations across more than 35 square kilometres of the project area to measure the birds response to this new work. Results have demonstrated lapwing numbers are improving on sites where the project has carried out habitat creation work in liaison with local farmers.


In 2010, a repeat of the 2005 survey was carried out to provide us with a better understanding of the population dynamics across the wider area. RSPB volunteer surveyors recorded 175 pairs of breeding waders at key sites in the Upper Thames Tributaries. This number exceeded the project’s 2011 targets for recovery although it is a reduction in the number recorded in 2005 and we still have some way to go before we achieve our target of restoration of historical numbers for the area. 
The Cherwell Valley is a prime example of a landscape-scale approach to habitat creation. The project has worked with farmers, Natural England and the Environment Agency in the valley to create more than one and a half square kilometres of wetland mosaic including wet grassland, lowland meadow and fen habitats for breeding waders and other wildlife. This has included digging more than 7,500 metres of shallow ditches and pools for waders and chicks to feed in. 
In 2008, 2009 and 2010, we recorded redshanks on habitat created by the project, the first records of breeding redshanks in the valley since 1982.
The approach in the Cherwell Valley is mirrored across much of the Upper Thames Tributaries. During 2010, the project has worked successfully with farmers and landowners to restore a square kilometre to wet grassland management.
Much of the habitat has been created using the RSPB’s rotary ditcher. This has worked on farms in the Upper Thames Tributaries with fantastic results.


The RSPB would like to thank the following funding partners who are supporting this project:


In this issue: The value of a traditional hay meadow; Getting the right kit for the job; Wading bird numbers are up, up and away Date: 12 March 2010. PDF, 438Kb.

Lapwing Landscapes newsletter: Issue 3

In this issue; Getting on top of rush; A volunteer’s view; Profile of a farm on the River Windrush. Date: 26 October 2011. PDF, 1.87Mb.

Lapwing Landscapes newsletter: Issue 4


Coast on a stormy day

Charlotte Kinnear

Conservation Officer, RSPB
Tagged with: Country: England Habitat: Farmland Habitat: Grassland Project status: Ongoing Project types: Advocacy