Working for Waders is involved with farmers across a number of projects, and it’s a common theme that many farmers and land managers often feel quite disempowered on issues around wader conservation. This seems to be a legacy of traditional “top-down” grants and advisory work which has been a driving force behind conservation on farmland over the past few decades. This approach has left lots of people feeling confused and frustrated at schemes or regulations which seem to have been imposed without any flexibility for local knowledge and ideas.
A Working for Waders event (held in association with Soil Association Scotland) took place at Galashiels in June and was designed to allow farmers to feed their ideas “upwards” for a change, and it was great to hear thoughts and ambitions from the people who manage the land where waders are in decline. We are keen to keep in touch with the farmers and land managers who came along to the day, and feeding their ideas back into the group has generated some interesting material. A good deal of really useful follow-up work visiting farms and finding out more about how waders are doing on the ground is now taking place.
A sample of the farms visited so far (and some of the questions raised) are listed below. More visits are due to take place in the next month, but all this helps to build a three dimensional picture of the problems which waders face across Scotland. It also shows up the variety and complexity of issues raised by waders (a group of very different birds) on farms (a group of very different businesses). There is no “one size fits all” answer to the decline of wading birds!
1) Old Torr Farm, Auchencairn (Farmers: The Paton family)
An organic dairy farm which runs right up to the Solway coast
Breeding oystercatchers, but lapwings and curlews were lost several years ago
There are opportunities to cut dry cow silage later in the season to protect nesting waders. How can this be targeted?
The family wants to install wader scrapes in wetter parts of silage fields, but how to integrate these and ensure ongoing management?
What are the impacts of adjacent woodlands, and how to site wader scrapes to best advantage?
Oystercatchers seem to breed well in spring barley/pea crop
2) Blakelaw Farm, Kelso (Farmer: Joe Scott Plummer)
A mixed farm producing beef cattle, cereals, OSR and beans.
Waders have declined dramatically at Blakelaw.
On our visit, we identified a good spot for putting in a wader scrape; wet, rushy grassland grazed by cattle.
Snipe were displaying over this spot when we visited - but how to integrate wader scrapes in existing and recently upgraded drainage system?
Elsewhere, formerly good curlew habitat has been deserted. Is there scope to change management in these areas and integrate scrapes on rolling/undulating ground?
What is the impact of predators and how can it be mitigated?
3) Douglas Estate, Douglas (Landowner: Michael Dunglass)
Large mixed estate with a variety of wader interest, adjacent to the Clyde Valley Wader Project.
Opportunities for rush and reed management around sunken riverbed pool systems in traditional parkland - mulching rush beds and managing vegetation change - this is a very good place for wintering snipe.
Elsewhere, farms in Duneaton Valley require rush management/pasture improvement to encourage wading birds - this work is a win:win for the profitability of the estate, but it calls for some trade-offs
The estate contains important sites for breeding upland redshank in Southern Uplands.
Gamekeepers are present, but large numbers of corvids are thought to be exerting considerable pressure on breeding waders at crucial times.