Chris Bailey, Advisory Manager for RSPB Scotland, provides an overview of the Knowledge Transfer and Innovation project focused on increasing the number of farmers who undertake wader friendly management in Scotland

RSPB Scotland proactively supports initiatives at both national and local level aimed at reversing the declines in waders, many of them working in partnership. At the national level, we are a partner in the Working For Waders Initiative (WfW). This initiative, started in 2017, aims to tackle the decline of wading birds across Scotland with funding support from NatureScot and Scottish Government. The project is open to anyone with an interest in waders and is currently supported by a wide range of organisations and individuals, from farmers and conservationists to gamekeepers and birdwatchers. Partner organisations include Scottish Natural Heritage, British Trust for Ornithology, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Scottish Rural College, Scottish Land and Estates, Scottish Moorland Group, James Hutton Institute, The Heather Trust and Scottish Association for Field Sports.

WfW aims to do three things:

  • Raise awareness of wader declines
  • Show that declines can be reverse
  • Demonstrate the importance of working in partnership

Working together we are currently delivering a Knowledge Transfer and Innovation Fund project aiming to build a stronger community of wader friendly farmers by running a series of events across Scotland. Over the first three months of 2023 we will have organised events in Oban, Clyde Valley, Strathspey, Glenlivet, Angus Glens, Shetland, Caithness and Dumfries and Galloway. Five of these events have been aimed at farmers allowing discussions about wader friendly farming management on farm, providing an opportunity to discuss the latest research and trials. At our events at Strathspey and Glenlivet there was a particular focus on soil health and how with careful management of their soils they could improve grass yields whilst reducing inputs. This creates a win: win situation for farmers and biodiversity. Earthworms, a core part of the wader diet, are one such group have been shown to increase in response to farmers considering their soil management more carefully. We learnt  about how sustainable rush management over several years could be targeted to help individual species as well as increasing the area that was available to be grazed and there was also chance to discuss the toppers and aerators owned and managed by RSPB and Cairngorms National Park.   The event in Angus Glens sought to showcase the beneficial relationship between sensitively managed livestock production and wader conservation. Working with the RSPB and Working for Waders the farmer had created and improved habitat for the birds, including wader scrape creation and tree removal, predator control and nest monitoring, alongside its 105 strong beef suckler herd.    Clyde Valley Farmers at one of the KTIF events

Our events in Oban, Caithness and Dumfries and Galloway brought together Agricultural Advisors and Consultants who work with farmers and crofters across Scotland. These agents play an important role in developing wader focused agri-environment applications on behalf of their farmer clients. Discussions focused how to make the most of the existing Agri-environment and Climate scheme, which will be open for applications in 2023, 2024 and 2025 and how to target options to maximise their effectiveness for the individual wader species as well as other priority species such as Corncrake. We highlighted the various products produced by Working for Waders, including information on how to monitor wader numbers and create wader scrapes. We also collated their views on how wader options should be incorporated into the replacement schemes which will start in 2027.

Over the next month we will be developing a series of case studies that demonstrate best practice. These will be available on the Working for Waders and RSPB website once complete. We are also planning 3 webinars to share knowledge and best practice and will be organising some events for farmers so we can teach them survey methods allowing them to record birds on their farms using an Working for Waders APP.