Tag Archives: waders

String ’em up

A grisly line-up of stoats and crows taken out of the equation by a local gamekeeper

A grisly line-up of stoats and crows taken out of the equation by a local gamekeeper

A gamekeepers ‘gibbet’ photographed earlier on this Spring is a gruesome tally of predator control on a Carrs Wetland farm. This one is strung with Stoats and Carrion Crows, both partial to a lapwing chick or two and a reminder of the pressures that ground nesting birds including waders face in the breeding season.
Whether or not active control by keepers is carried out on a farm can be an important factor in wader productivity. It can mean the difference between successful fledging of young or complete failure of nests; even if many other habitat and hydrological aspects are optimised on a wetland site. We must remember that a clutch of lapwing eggs numbers 4 or 5 and conservation managers consider an average of 0.7 chicks raised per pair to be pretty good going. Most of them get ‘knobbled’ in other words. See an earlier post on Lapwing productivity here and another post here from last year on these charismatic waders

We may not like the idea of someone trapping and humanely dispatching predators, but without doubt ground nesting waders can fare better on farms with shooting interests.

It so happens that a diligent keeper controlling foxes, stoats, crows and mink for the benefit of the pheasants and partridge they rear for the shooting season, can also improve the chances of other ground nesting birds, lapwing, curlew and snipe included, during the breeding season.
So now do we think that shooting and conservation can go together in wetlands? Is predator control distasteful to some people? – I’m sure it is, but next time you pass a line of corvids or mustelids hung on a fence, think about chicks that might have been chomped or eggs eaten had those predators been left to raise young of their own. It makes you see it a bit differently, doesn’t it?

Now, it may be an age-old tradition for gamekeepers to display their furred or feathered perpetrators for their employer to verify, no doubt with a tugging of forlock and doffing of cap, but in the old days they were paid at piece rates. Who knows maybe some still are. But it’s a country tradition, so let’s focus on the service they are performing for put-upon wildlife and not the grisly line-up on the gamekeepers gibbet – think of it more like an invoice for services rendered in the name of wetland wildlife.

If you want to learn more about the farm site where I saw this gamekeeper’s handiwork (this is not a spot on public view, if you were wondering) then I recommend the Potter Brompton Farms blog.

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Fencing clever

Breeding waders HLS

Fencing at Staxton Carr for stewardship grassland

Regular visitors to Staxton Carr may have noticed some new fencing appear this spring on fields off Ings Lane and Staxton Carr Lane. The fencing is part of the scheduled HLS capital works to help manage some of these pastures for breeding waders, like Lapwing and Curlew, or possibly Snipe.

There are some nice options for circular walks in this area, using the public footpaths and, by common practice the river bank of the Hertford Cut. These circuits are perhaps best-known to residents of Staxton village who take regular walks with canine friends. Three lanes run parallel northwards to the Hertford River (the third, Willerby Carr Lane, becomes a rough farm track after the last house but is a public bridleway.)

A glance at the map shows that all three lanes are linked by Public Rights of Way. The fencing that has been added this year does two things. Firstly it creates grazing compartments enabling the farmer to better control the stocking levels (or shut them for a late summer hay crop). Secondly it separates the sensitive fields from the public rights of way in order to reduce disturbance from walkers or dogs straying ‘off piste’ among the ground nesting birds (or cattle, or both).

A wader scrape at Staxton Carr in one of the fenced pastures

A wader scrape at Staxton Carr in one of the fenced pastures

When the HLS scheme started here the relevant fields had some wader scrapes excavated – hollows for seasonal wet patches to linger in the springtime. Ground-nesting waders recorded in the fields in recent years include Lapwing Oystercatcher and Curlew. Over-wintering Snipe may stay on to nest among the boggy rushes, if undisturbed and the sward develops to their liking. Other ground-nesters here are Skylark, Meadow Pipit and that diminutive game bird the Quail.

Next time you enjoy exploring this part of The Carrs look for the scrapes and the rushy patches and remember why these fields are sensitive, especially at nesting time. We need the help of all footpath-users, whether two – or four-legged to keep these fields undisturbed – the wildlife value may not be obvious to the casual observer, but those of us in the know will keep a look-out and may even spot some chicks, if we are lucky.

Hoping for a Lapwing Spring

A Lapwing nest is a simple depression on the ground

A Lapwing nest is a simple depression on the ground

Now that Spring is here the wide open fields of The Carrs will resound once more to the calls of Curlew, Lapwing and other ground-nesting wader species. Which ones have you seen displaying or calling?

We have regular breeding by Curlew, Oystercatcher and Lapwing, faltering efforts by Common Snipe and Redshank but their fortunes blow with the wind (and rain and drought and cold…) each season. I wonder if this spring will prove to be a decent breeding year for raising young Lapwing – A Lapwing Spring?

Without recruitment of juveniles, wader populations will dwindle. A lot of research has gone into this – it is particularly well-quantified for Lapwing. Seeing good numbers of adult birds paired up, displaying, even nesting and hatching chicks is no guarantee that the population is stable. In each clutch of eggs most will not make it to fledging stage.

Lapwing chicks www.arkive.org
Adult Lapwing by a wet grassland scrape www.arkive.org
Research shows that Lapwing pairs need to raise an average 0.6 chicks per season to fledging stage for the overall population to match natural losses. This figure is known as the productivity (chicks per pair each season).This may not sound a lot to expect of a bird that lays typical clutches of 4-5 eggs but we must remember these are ground-nesters. Eggs laid in a tussock of grass in an open field and the chicks which hopefully hatch run the gauntlet of predation by foxes, corvids, buzzards, falcons, stoats, hedgehogs and numerous other hungry mouths, not to mention the vagaries of the Yorkshire weather.

Disturbance can cause incubating birds to leave the nest and if they don’t return soon after the eggs may chill in the cool spring air. Nesting attempts might even be abandoned through repeated disturbance at a site. Farmers generally have a good view from a tractor cab to spot and avoid the nests in any essential operations.

A Lapwing nest and its camouflaged clutch of eggs

A Lapwing nest and its camouflaged clutch of eggs

It’s a tough life being a Lapwing. The next pair that you see when crossing a field or walking a footpath, spare a thought for their plight. They might be the only pair on a farm to succeed in fledging this year’s recruits – so long as we don’t disturb them at this critical time. Lapwings will dive-bomb you or show agitated behaviour if you enter the field they are nesting in. If you do see behaviour indicating a nest nearby or you spot a nest, eggs, chicks or juvenile Lapwings over the few months – please let me know so we can record how they fare this year.

Oh, and all those watery scrapes the farms have created in the fields at Staxton, Flixton, Potter Brompton etc. This is where they come into their own, fingers crossed, providing some rich feeding habitat for those little chicks. Let’s hope for a good year for them.

Reflections of a wetland officer

A jungle of hemlock on an abandoned arable field near Star Carr was the daunting starting point five yrs ago this autumn for a wet grassland creation site. This 40 acre lump of Carr land belonging to Scarborough Borough Council was the first location where, as a newly recruited Wetland Project Officer I was expected to demonstrate the viability of Higher Level Stewardship schemes in our small part of the Vale.

I think it’s fair to say that there were those who voiced their doubts and concerns at the time and indeed there may be plenty of people even now who upon seeing the site today will wonder and ask what all the fuss is about. I don’t mind admitting that there were moments when even I had my doubts whether this wet grassland restoration lark was going to prove viable on The Carrs in the face of strong economic pressures on farms to boost food production, grow energy crops or invest in re-draining of arable floodplain land.