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Threatened lapwing numbers restored by Fordingbridge's Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust community project

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LAPWING numbers are taking off in the Avon Valley thanks to a four-year community project led by a New Forest conservation charity to reverse their decline.

The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), based in Fordingbridge, said it had created a "lasting legacy" after the chicks of 100 breeding lapwing pairs hatched this spring.

The LIFE Waders for Real programme between 2015 and 2019 involved GWCT ecologists working with 40 landowners to restore habitats in the Avon Valley – a key breeding ground for lapwing and other conservation red-list wading birds.

There are increasing numbers of lapwing chicks now in the Avon Valley
There are increasing numbers of lapwing chicks now in the Avon Valley

Since the mid-1990s, lapwings had been declining steeply there due to poor breeding success, with predation of nests and chicks being the main cause.

GWCT took action after closely monitoring the situation and invited farmers to join the project.

Before the programme began there were just 61 pairs, with lapwing productivity as low as 0.4 young per pair.

But by the end of the project in 2019, the number of pairs hit 105, with nearly one young each – safely exceeding the critical level for sustainability which is 0.7 per pair.

Lizzie Grayshon, GWCT lead ecologist on the project, said: "The land managers have continued with many of the conservation measures we helped them put in place, and despite the unusually cold Spring, our monitoring suggests there will be at least 100 breeding pairs of lapwing this year, which is brilliant and consistent with the number at the end of the project. The long-term commitment of these ‘working conservationists’ is vital to ensuring the lapwings’ future in the Avon Valley."

Measures put in place to protect the birds included the erection of temporary electric fences around nests to stop predators, like foxes.

"The farmers are still really engaged with their waders and provide us with regular updates," said Ms Grayshon.

"The fact that lapwing numbers have remained stable since the end of the project shows how, given the right funding, advice and encouragement and by working together, farmers can boost biodiversity in the working countryside.

"Seventy-two per cent of the land in Britain is farmed, so private land managers must be properly supported to carry out conservation on a landscape scale."

Farmer Will Mitchell said each year he and other landowners are getting "more and more involved" with the birds. "If I find some eggs or new chicks I let Lizzie know and she keeps us up to date on progress elsewhere in the valley," he said.

"We have a bit of competition now on who has the most lapwing.

"It's great to see the lapwing coming back, and this year we’ve had three types of egret, a redshank nest and, for the first time, a pair of oyster catchers."

Lapwings nest on the ground and are especially vulnerable to both predators and disturbance by people and dogs. "When you visit the valley, please stick to the paths and keep your dogs on leads,” said Will. "If the birds are making lots of noise, this is their alarm call because you may have strayed into their nesting area and could cause them to abandon their chicks – please take heed and stay on the path."

Only a generation ago, large flocks of lapwing were a familiar sight across the country, but the population has fallen by 80% since 1960 in England and Wales.

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