I’ve touched on the issue of predation in my earlier lapwing posts – remember Problem 1a? Well all my chickadees are getting eaten! And in terms of improving the conservation status of lapwings, that just ain’t a winning formula!
So obviously, that needs tackling somehow.
As part of the EU Life + funding for the Avon Valley project, non-lethal methods of predation reduction are being tried and tested.
One method used to reduce nest predation is the use of nest cages (bare with me…). Basically, a cage (photo describes it better than I ever could with words!) is placed 10m away from a nest to start, then 2 days later, it is moved to 2m away, and 2 days later it is placed over the nest. This is a staggered process in order to try and habituate the lapwings to the cage. You still then have to watch until the female comes back and sits on the eggs in the cage though before it can be deemed an utter success.
But if you get to this stage, the cage should stop foxes, badgers and cows (yes, cows eat eggs – I saw it with my own eyes and if my little legs would move a bit faster maybe I could have stopped them – heartbreak!) from eating the eggs. It also works on the idea that many avian predators of nests (crows and rooks for example) are neophobic (they’re scared of novel objects) so won’t approach it (because realistically, they could still get in if they wanted).
Great idea right? Well yes, and in a previous study, researchers found that female lapwings accepted the cages in 7 out of 8 attempts! So we gave it a go this year in the Avon Valley and… in 7 out of 8 cases… the lapwings did NOT accept the cages… Yes, we only managed to get 1 female to sit on her eggs under the cage! For her, the cage worked beautifully and she hatched 4 beautiful chicks! But just 1 female!
I also have several queries about the cages:
1) If we are habituating the lapwings to the cages, surely the crows will also eventually loose their fear too?
2) I watched a herd of 30 cows encircle a cage when it was just 2m away from the nest (they love licking metal apparently).. How they did not trampled the nearby nest I do not know, but surely there is a major risk factor there when most of our nest are in fields with cattle?
3) It only protects eggs, not chicks.
So clearly, although there is some (minimal in my opinion) hope with using nest cages, something else needs to be done!
This is where things get controversial… prepare yourselves…
Alongside the EU funding for non-lethal predation control, the GWCT are also encouraging land owners to carry out lethal predator control at their own (the landowners’) expense.
Yes, that does indeed mean culling predatory species.
At this point, I think it is important to note that:
– all methods used are legal and thus have been deemed humane,
– this is being used as a conservation tool (i.e. without such action, it is likely that breeding lapwing populations will be locally extinct from the Avon Valley in the very near future).
Under this management plan foxes, weasels, stoats, mink, crows, rooks, jackdaws, magpies are all being culled on farmland across the Valley. But this by no means covers all of the species responsible for lapwing predation – badgers, otters, buzzards, kestrels, peregrines (to name but a few) have all been known to take lapwing eggs, chicks and adults.
So, is legal culling a waste of time whilst lapwings are still exposed to so many predators we can’t control? Or, is it best to do all that can be done within legal means in the hope that this will be enough to make a difference?
There is also a deep ethical question here:
Is it right to value to life of an individual of one species (in the case, a lapwing) over another (a fox or a crow)? I think that’s not something that can be scientifically advised – it’s really personal beliefs.
I know this is a heated issue, but I think it’s something that goes on a lot more than most people realise. Species are culled globally as a conservation tool.
The best example I can think of here, is the culling of elephants in many reserves across southern Africa in order to conserve habitats. Yes, we hear all the time about elephants are being poached for their ivory and their imminent extinction, but in many small fenced reserves, densities of elephants are too high and are causing unsustainable damage to vegetation structure and diversity. The result: elephants are culled. (I will speak a lot more on this issue in the future – it’s something very close to my heart – so stay tuned!)
I believe we live in a hugely man-manipulated world where ecosystems globally are out of balance. As a result, certain species suffer whilst others thrive. Where this imbalance threatens the existence of one or more species, I think it is our responsibility to do what we can to right it. Obviously, if this doesn’t have to involve lethal action against other species then I don’t believe it should. But in some cases, like that of the lapwing, where predation is a major limiting factor in species survival, I think lethal control can be a valuable conservation tool.
[I would love to hear what you think on this matter – whether you disagree with me, agree or are undecided – comment!]