Over half of England’s most threatened breeding birds are ground nesting, including lapwing, redshank and avocet. RSPB Communications Officer, Sydney Henderson, investigates why lapwing are in trouble, and what the RSPB is doing to help. 

In the last 50 years, the UK lapwing population has decreased by nearly half. Lapwing rely on a mosaic of habitats for nesting and chick rearing, but large-scale changes to the way land is managed has reduced the variety of habitats available, making lapwing more vulnerable.  

Breeding lapwing need open, short grassland, which provides cover for the nest while letting the parents keep a watchful eye out for threats. Once born, the parent will lead chicks to nearby feeding areas, usually wetlands, which provide a source of minibeasts for chicks to eat. Chick survival often depends on how far they have to travel from nest to food source.  

Lapwing and chick

Image (above): Lapwing and chick at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands, on the Dee Estuary, Cheshire. Short grass and broken soil provides cover for the nest, whilst enabling the adult to keep watch for threats. Credit: Alasdair Grubb.  

What is the RSPB doing to help lapwing populations recover?  

At RSPB MarshsideMerseysidea dedicated team of staff and volunteers carry out habitat work to create the perfect conditions for nesting lapwingsKept as open as possible, the landscape has minimal trees or scrub which could provide hiding places for foxes and watchtowers for crows. Grass is kept short by cows in summer, and wintering geese and wigeon in winter. Nearby wetlands provide a ready source of insects for lapwing chicks to feed on, while other ground nesting birds, including rare redshank and avocet, also benefit. 

At nearby RSPB Hesketh Out Marsh, funding from FCC Communities Foundation Ltd has helped our team create saltmarsh habitat. Complete with a network of creeks and lagoons, this provides the right conditions for birds like pink-footed geese, wigeon, redshank, avocet and Arctic terns to feed and rest 

Lapwing with chicks

Image (above): Lapwing and chicks forage for invertebrates in shallow ditches, created by machinery, at our Dee Estuary reserve. Credit: Alasdair Grubb. 

At RSPB Burton Mere Wetlandspart of our Dee Estuary nature reserve in Cheshiremanaging wet grassland habitat for breeding waders is a conservation priority. Here, abandoned farmland was converted into perfect habitat for waders, including lapwing. Machinery was used to create scrapes and drains, and water levels are managed by sluices making ideal conditions for ground nesting birds and boosting food availability. This work has paid off, as the site is now one of the most productive RSPB sites in the UK for lapwing, providing a blueprint for how wetlands can be managed for at-risk ground nesting birds 

What you can do to help  

Visitors to RSPB reserves and other ground nesting bird habitats, can help keep nests safe by keeping their dogs on leads.  When off leads, dogs can run through nesting areas, causing stress to breeding birds. Even if dogs  don’t physically harm the birdsbeing disturbed may cause the parent to desert a nest and it can also cause birds to scatter, making them vulnerable to predatorslike birds of prey  Repeatedly being disturbed like this can also stress birds out, use up valuable energy and leave them weaker and more vulnerable to other threats.  

Whilst dogs are welcome at some RSPB reserves, including RSPB Marshside and in some areas of our Dee Estuary reserve, it is important they are kept on leads, stay with you on the paths and are under close effective controlBy following this simple advice, you can really help to protect rare breeding birds like the lapwing.  

With lapwing populations falling nationally, we’re fighting to save this special bird. With the support of our members ideal habitat for ground nesting birds, by managing water levels, installing anti-predator fencing and boosting biodiversity at our reserves across England. This habitat helps keep the birds and their chicks safe, but as a charity, we can only continue this vital work if people support us. More than a million people already support our work as RSPB members – will you join them today?  

Header image: Lapwing chick. Credit: Alasdair Grubb.