Update from Auchnerran

GWCT researchers tagging adult lapwings, May 2019

GWCT researchers tagging adult lapwings, May 2019

Working for Waders is providing funds for a series of wader research projects. One of these projects has a focus on habitat use and mortality of lapwing chicks at Auchnerran, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust’s demonstration farm. GWCT’s Merlin Becker has given this update on progress so far.

This is a very busy time for the researchers at the Game & Wildlife Scottish Demonstration Farm, Auchnerran, with hundreds of waders back and breeding in full-swing. Much of what we do is not rocket-science but provides absolutely invaluable information. We monitor the birds’ abundance and productivity; that is, how many there are and how many young successfully fledge, which gives us an excellent measure of the overall health of the population and how the birds respond to changes in the landscape. The latest figures from the British Trust for Ornithology show that lapwing and curlew – two of the stars at Auchnerran – have declined in Scotland by 55% and 61% respectively since 1995 and we know they were declining long before this too. GWSDF is doing what it can to stave off that decline in NE Scotland. 

The main problem limiting wader populations today is high predation rates on eggs and chicks that prevent most of the birds, in most places, from breeding successfully. Dr Dave Parish, Head of Research at the farm, says: 

“We want to learn as much as we can from the daily lives of these birds so we can better manage the farm and advise others on the problems the birds’ face and how to overcome them. 

“The increase in predation rates in recent times has been recorded by scientists from many institutions at wader breeding grounds across Europe. This is caused by generalist predators such as foxes and crows which are now more common than ever across this area. 

“This problem may be complicated by poor habitats which are less secure for nesting birds, making them easier targets for predators. Providing good habitats such as damp grasslands and some rough, rushy, areas is a good thing and will benefit the birds in the long-run, but in many cases nesting waders will need more immediate protection from high predation rates, at least while land managers make the necessary changes to the landscape – which is no easy task.” 

The role habitats play here is a big part of the research at Auchnerran. Both lapwing and curlew are tagged with small devices that allow us to follow their movements year-round (with a little bit of luck). By tagging birds we can track individuals without impeding their daily lives and learn a huge amount about the parts of the farm and broader landscape they like, where they forage and breed successfully. This then allows us to better manage our own farm and help others to do likewise. 

Dave Parish says: 

“Auchnerran is unusual as it supports high densities of several wader species – nationally important populations in some cases, and the research is of vital importance in increasing our understanding of the birds’ requirements. Our findings are used to help better manage the land and to try to influence Government grant-aid schemes too, which provide important support for farmers and others trying to implement improvements.”

Working For Waders