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.