Shetland farmland waders

The last survey of all Shetland's breeding waders was carried out in the early 1990s.

Oystercatcher haematopus ostralegus: flock at high tide roost. Snettisham RSPB reserve, England.


In 2013, we re-surveyed the 30 sites which had been identified as the best ones for breeding waders, which are spread throughout Shetland and cover around 20 square kilometres.
After speaking with farmers and crofters, it became apparent there was a need for information about wader management options in the new Scottish Rural Development Programme (SDRP).


  • More surveys on the best sites for waders.
  • Adviser to encourage farmers/crofters to get in touch if they would like a wader survey and follow up advice and information about the new SRDP wader options.
  • Farmland wader surveys mostly by volunteers.
  • Attend agricultural shows to promote wader management.
  • One-to-one adviser visits.
  • Adviser to keep abreast of new SRDP news and developments.


A total of 80 farmers/crofters were involved in the project in 2013 and 20 square kilometres were surveyed.

Planned Work

This two-year project has clearly demonstrated there is a need for a much larger wader project for Shetland and Orkney.


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? 


The RSPB are currently funding an adviser one day per week.
The project received LIFE+ funding in 2013.


Coast on a stormy day

Sue White

Project Officer, RSPB
Tagged with: Country: Scotland Habitat: Farmland Habitat: Grassland Habitat: Wetland Project status: Ongoing Project types: Species protection