We can now start to get a picture of what has been happening to breeding waders during the last 20 years.
Some of our waders are doing well - numbers of oystercatchers are well up. In some areas there are twice as many pairs as there were 20 years ago, and breeding numbers of snipe have increased by about 17 per cent.
But numbers of curlew have fallen by about 12 per cent, and lapwing and redshank have declined dramatically in all areas. Lapwings are down by 49 per cent and redshank by 54 per cent compared to the number of breeding pairs recorded in 1993.
What is going on?
All waders need a mosaic of different types of vegetation - short vegetation and wet areas for feeding, longer vegetation to provide cover for nests and chicks.
Extensively grazed damp in-bye grassland is ideal. Cattle grazing is also particularly good for waders, as cattle leave a more uneven sward and their muck is full of the invertebrates which waders feed on. Agricultural management is crucial to maintaining the appropriate habitats.
However, land management requirements tend to reflect conditions on mainland Scotland and may not suit some of our breeding waders. The results of this project will enable us to provide better targeted advice on land management for waders. This will be particularly relevant to land managers applying for agri-environment funding through the SRDP.
This project has provided a tantalising insight into the current population status of our breeding waders in select areas, but has generated many more questions which must be addressed. What is going on elsewhere in Shetland outside the best sites for breeding waders? Why are some species doing worse than others? Are there simple low/no-cost land management measures which could improve the habitat for the species whose numbers have fallen?