A LANDSCAPE-scale study by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust in collaboration with the RSPB will provide crucial information that will help improve the Government scheme that pays farmers to put in special wildlife measures to help lapwings.

Latest figure show that lapwings, one of the most widely recognised waders and often called the farmer’s friend, have suffered a dramatic decline of about 50 per cent over the past 30 years and this is continuing despite measures being implemented to reverse the trend.

Dr Andrew Hoodless, a wader scientist with the GWCT, is currently studying why this worrying decline is continuing.

He said: “Lapwings are very adaptable birds and because they nest on wet grassland, upland moors or arable land they should be doing quite well, but they are not.

“We know that the problem is not over-wintering survival, but that the lapwings are simply not fledging sufficient chicks each year to maintain a stable populations.”

In an effort to reverse lapwing declines on arable land, which are mainly attributable to the switch from spring-sown to autumn-sown crops, the Government is paying farmers to leave large bare patches of soil within winter cultivated winter cereal or oilseed rape fields.

These fallow plots are similar to skylark plots, but much larger, typically one to two hectares.

Although the GWCT’s research in 2010 and 2011 identified that these fallow plots were attractive to lapwings and had an excellent 60 per cent occupancy rate, they were still not doing the trick.

Dr Hoodless said: “Farmers are paid to maintain these plots under agri-environment schemes and we therefore need to be sure that this money is well spent.

“To do this our research aims to quantify how many chicks are fledging each year and whether the fallow plots are either maintaining stable populations or increasing lapwing numbers.

“So far the research indicates that lapwings are still declining on arable land owing to low breeding success.

“Initial results indicate that nest survival on fallow plots is high, but the chicks fail to thrive once hatched.

“Next year, we will be undertaking an extensive radio-tracking study of young lapwing chicks to identify what is happening top them once they leave the nest. The radio-tracking will provide more detail on chick requirements for food and cover for predator avoidance.

“Our aim is to provide well researched solutions, to enable Government to tweak the schemes so that farmers can maximise habitats that help to boost lapwing numbers in the future.”