LIFE Project Cover Photo

Demonstrating wader population recovery through innovative site management and novel stakeholder engagement

Reference: LIFE13 BIO/UK/000315 | Acronym: LIFE WADERS FOR REAL

PROJECT DESCRIPTION

BACKGROUND

The River Avon develops into a large calcareous lowland river south of Salisbury in England. The floodplain consists of humid, species-rich grassland, with ditches and some standing water usually persisting through the spring months. The traditional farming pattern of the valley reflects the propensity for winter flooding. In 1982, the Avon Valley constituted one of the top eight lowland wet grassland sites in England for breeding waders. It has historically supported nationally important populations of breeding northern lapwing (anellus vanellus), redshank (Tringa totanus) and common snipe (Gallinago gallinago). However, numbers of breeding waders in the Avon Valley have decreased dramatically, with declines of 64% in lapwing, 75% in redshank and 97% in snipe recorded from 1982 to 2002. This is mainly due to the agricultural improvement of wet grassland habitats involving drainage, fertilisation of grass swards, increased livestock densities, and high rates of nest predation. Monitoring of lapwing breeding success over recent years has shown that it is currently too low for the maintenance of a stable breeding population.


OBJECTIVES

The LIFE WADERS FOR REAL project aimed to reverse the decline of breeding wading birds in the river floodplain of the Avon Valley, part of which is designated as a Natura 2000 network site (SPA). To halt the decline of lapwing and redshank, in particular, urgent intervention is needed to improve breeding success. The objective of the project was to increase the breeding density of key bird species through a unique combination of habitat restoration in collaboration with farmers, and innovative actions that target seasonal exclusion, monitoring and tracking of predators.


RESULTS

LIFE WADERS FOR REAL involved close collaboration with farmers, gamekeepers, landowners, volunteers and the local community to improve habitat and reduce predation, to reverse the decline of breeding waders in the Avon Valley SPA (England) in a non-reserve landscape. Habitat restoration measures, implemented on hotspot sites, included creating new scrapes and ditches in fields to increase surface water availability, sward height management, and removal of scrub and trees. These measures created suitable conditions for waders by providing a food source for chicks, appropriate cover within grassland, and reduced perches (trees and fences) for avian predators. Temporary electric fencing proved to be effective in protecting waders during the breeding period from mammalian predators.

The project team developed conservation plans for six sites in the Avon Valley and completed restoration actions on five of these. This improved 229 ha of habitat by creating water-meadows, and in-field scrapes and ditches, making it better suited to lapwing and redshank nesting/brood rearing. A reverse in the decline of lapwing in the Avon Valley was achieved, with the population increasing from 61 pairs in 2015 to 105 pairs in 2019. Productivity on hotspot sites averaged 0.75 chick/pair over the course of the project compared to 0.52 chick/pair on comparison farms elsewhere in the Avon Valley, this is about the critical level required to maintain a stable breeding population (0.7 chicks per/pair). However, lapwing densities are still at a level that will require continued intervention to exclude predators. Redshank breeding pairs increased from 19 to 35 pairs during the project. The enhanced habitat management created more suitable conditions for snipe over 32 ha. In the last two years of the project, snipe recorded displaying in May and June indicating that this species is returning to breed in the Avon Valley, although breeding was not confirmed

The effect of the restoration work on other key elements of floodplain biodiversity was also monitored. Floristic diversity increased during the project, possibly due to more sensitive grazing. Several invertebrates, such as Species of dragonflies and damselflies benefitted from ditch renewal. Wintering wildfowl increased in number, with more areas of standing water in fields in winter.

A large part of the success of the project was due to the engagement of over 40 land managers, and the cooperation of graziers, farmers, gamekeepers and landowners. Through this engagement, the project team discovered that farmers were deeply concerned about the decline of waders in the Avon Valley and welcomed the measures put in place to reverse declining wader populations.

One innovative aspect of the project was fox tracking using GPS collar. This showed a high fox density in the upper Avon Valley and the movement of foxes away from apparent territories in spring. The project team produced a best practice guide to erecting temporary electric fencing to protect wader nests from fox and other predators. The project implements the EU Birds Directive, by focusing on three species (lapwing, redshank and snipe) listed in Annex II. At national level, the projects methods have informed Defras approach for predator management, to be included in the new Environmental Land Management agri-environment scheme. The project has also influenced the Countryside Stewardships Facilitation Fund, which provides payment for a facilitator to help groups of farm managers work together at a landscape scale to effect greater environmental improvement, by demonstrating the farmer cluster concept.

The projects socio-economic assessment used the Theory of Change model to show how four key stakeholder groups benefitted from the conservation measures (farmers/landowners/gamekeepers, students, the wider community, and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust). Farmer practices have been influenced by the project, given that they are seeking to continue to cooperate as part of a 'farmer cluster' to help deliver continued benefits for waders. The students who gained practical skills and experience from the project were shown to have improved employment prospects in conservation and/or research.

Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan (see "Read more" section).

ADMINISTRATIVE DATA


Reference: LIFE13 BIO/UK/000315
Acronym: LIFE WADERS FOR REAL
Start Date: 01/06/2014
End Date: 31/12/2019
Total Budget: 1,254,638 €
EU Contribution: 627,319 €
Project Location:

CONTACT DETAILS


Coordinating Beneficiary: Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust
Legal Status: PNC
Address: Burgate Manor, SP61EF, Fordingbridge, United Kingdom
Contact Person: Paul Stephens
Email: pstephens@gwct.org.uk
Tel: 441837659423
Website: http://www.gwct.org.uk


LIFE Project Map

ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES ADDRESSED

THEMES

  • Birds

KEYWORDS

  • management plan
  • endangered species

TARGET EU LEGISLATION

  • Directive 79/409 - Conservation of wild birds (02.04.1979)

BENEFICIARIES

Name Type
Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust Coordinator
None Participant

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