This summer I’m working on a project with the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust aiming to improve the breeding success of waders in the Avon Valley.
Historically, the Avon Valley was a bit of a hotspot for breeding populations of Northern lapwing, redshank and snipe. But… as the story goes in so many of these conservation conundrums, agricultural intensification messed things up a bit! The main issues being, in this case: drainage of wet features (gotta have water to wade right?), changes in stocking densities (too many cows = scrambled eggs, but too few cows = meadow turns into jungle, impenetrable to chicks) and an increase of generalised predators (eggs and chicks are bite-sized for a surprising number of beasties). This is all cumulating in productivity levels that are below what is needed for a stable population.
So the project as a whole, over the next 4 years, is investigating what in particular is causing such low productivity, and how we can manage the habitat to improve it. From research so far, it looks like this will almost certainly involve habitat manipulation – for example putting in more wet features, maintaining suitable sward heights through mowing and grazing etc, and predator control – yes, that means culling foxes, corvids and anything thing else legally possible.
My part in this, is using radio-tags to track the movements of chicks following hatching, to see which habitat types they utilise for foraging. My inference so far, is that they need moist, bare ground for feeding, with intermittent patches of taller vegetation for cover. Obviously, statistical evidence to follow!
My findings in turn should help to advise habitat manipulation plans in order to provide more suitable habitats for chick foraging.
I plan to give you some more info, but if your super keen investigate at the following sites: