This year, the RSPB has been working with farmers and volunteers across the Dark Peak to map the locations of wading species on enclosed farmland ahead of the introduction of new payments for biodiversity through the ELM scheme.  

Conservation Officer, Tom Aspinall writes about how the project came about and what it hopes to achieve in partnership with farmers in the Dark Peak.

There’s something extra special about walking off-piste through the Dark Peak as the sun begins its daily journey up over the horizon, while searching for some of our country's most iconic wading birds, the curlew, lapwing, snipe and oystercatcher.    

The Dark Peak is an amazing place, a patchwork, dotted with farms, heathland, peat bogs and woodland and is an important place for many wading birds, however, across much of the UK many of these waders are facing challenging times.

To help us understand the status of these birds on Dark Peak farmland, with the help of a dedicated team of volunteers and farmers, we undertook an exciting survey to understand breeding wading populations on farms in the Dark Peak.

Working with the Curlew Recovery Partnership

Following an excellent talk at the Curlew Recovery Partnership’s launch event by Chloe Palmer who facilitates several Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund (CSFF) groups in the Peak District, we made contact with Chloe as it was clear that the conservation objectives of her farmer groups and those of the local RSPB team in the Dark Peak were well aligned. From this the Dark Peak Wader Survey was born! Working in close partnership with Chloe and her CSFF group members, the survey, which covered 22 farms located mainly in the Hope and Bradfield valleys, aimed to provide a snapshot of where curlew, lapwing, snipe and oystercatcher breed on enclosed farmland.

With the help of over 30 excellent volunteers, from beginner surveyors to experienced ornithologists, we conducted over 80 visits to our partner farms. Each farm was surveyed three times between late spring and early summer this year, with volunteers undertaking early morning trips to record any sightings of waders.

The data collected through the surveys will help us build a picture of the distributions of breeding waders, information which is critical to supporting farmers and birds alike.  

With the introduction of new payments to farmers for the public goods their land provides through the Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes, it is crucial that they have the evidence of what species their land supports and this survey aims to do exactly that, ensuring that where they’re present, farmers can keep managing the land in a way that benefits these precious birds.

The benefits of surveys

Knowing where birds are breeding is also essential to ensuring that we can support these populations further in the future. By methodically surveying for breeding birds, we can understand their distribution and work together with farmers to protect those populations and hopefully help them to grow.

While this year’s survey has provided us with some useful data on wader populations on the participating farms, we hope to extend the coverage of the survey into the future, working in partnership with more farms, landowners and land managers across the Dark Peak to better understand how breeding populations are distributed across the whole farming landscape.  

We’re now in the process of analysing the data from this season’s surveys, which will be used to inform a short report for each farm outlining what was found there, and through continued collaboration with the farms within the CSFF groups we can continue to provide updated reports each survey year.

We want to say a huge thank you to the farmers for providing us with access to the land they own or manage and to our volunteers for their willingness to get up at the crack of dawn on so many occasions!  

Hearing the sounds of the curlew and lapwing over a wet field in the first light of day is a truly heart-warming thing, and it’s something we all hope to ensure can be enjoyed by many generations to come.

Image (c) Tom Aspinall

If you live in or near to the Dark Peak and would like to get involved in the survey in any way at all, please get in touch with us at