Lapwings and farmland

One of my favourite nests to find, is Lapwing, although it is becoming a less common sight nowadays. Between 1987 and 1998 lapwing numbers dropped by 49 per cent in England and Wales. Since 1960 the numbers dropped by 80 per cent.

The early declines were caused by large scale collection of eggs for food. Introduction of the Lapwing Act in 1926 prohibited this, and was followed by a considerable recovery in bird numbers.

Since the 1940s lapwing declines have been driven by large-scale changes to farming. Large areas of grassland were converted to arable, marginal land was drained and improved, and chemicals were introduced for fertilisers and pest control with increasing reliance on them. By 1960 the lapwing population had stabilised at a lower level.

In the breeding season, lapwings need a range of habitats, because they need different conditions for nesting and for chick rearing.

The nest is a scrape in the ground, lined with a bit of plant material. The birds need a good all round view from the nest to spot predators, and nest either on bare ground or in short vegetation. They often choose rough or broken ground to aid concealment of the nest – the field that the lapwings nest in near me, has been cultivated and rolled.

They lay clutches of four speckled olive coloured eggs from late March to early June, and chicks hatch 3-4 weeks later. They are covered in down when they hatch, and are able to walk about and feed within hours!

Soon after hatching, the parents will lead them to suitable feeding areas, where the supply of surface invertebrates is good and the vegetation low. They particularly need to have nearby grassland, especially if it contains flood pools and damp patches.

The transfer between the nesting and chick-rearing habitats can be hazardous, and chick survival often depends on how far they have to travel. The families stay in the chick-rearing habitat until the young are ready to fly at 5-6 weeks old. Lapwings only rear one brood a year, but may lay up to four replacement clutches if the eggs are lost.

I am very lucky to have a few pairs of lapwings nesting in a field by my house! I have loved watching them build their nest, lay eggs and raise their chicks!

A few weeks ago, we ringed some of the Lapwing chicks! We only ring the young as the adults fly up as soon as they see us. We drove around to the field and scanned it for Lapwing pairs and their chicks.

After about an hour, we found a pair with a couple of chicks. We ran out and began to search for them. The adults fly up and call to the young to hide – they crouch down and blend in with the ground very very well!

Lapwings can be rung just hours after they hatch as their legs don’t really change size, so the same sized ring is attached at all stages throughout their lives!

We found them after a few minutes and it was really amazing to ring them and see them upclose! It will be interesting to see where these chicks go in the winter and if they come back to breed in the next few years!

So how can we help lapwings and prevent their decline?

The best way, is to work with landowners and help them to make their fields and land more wildlife friendly.

In areas with breeding lapwings, seek a derogation from the set-aside rules to cultivate a field or a plot. This should ideally be located adjacent to grazed pasture, away from woods or tall hedges. It should be ploughed in November, or ploughed and disced in February, to create a fallow area for nesting from mid-March onwards.fter mid-March, try to avoid destroying lapwing nests during cultivation, hoeing or rolling operations. If a series of operations necessary, try to undertake them within a week, so that failed re-nest safely. 

On arable land, after mid-March, try to avoid destroying lapwing nests during cultivation, hoeing or rolling operations. If a series of operations necessary, try to undertake them within a week, so that failed pair re-nest safely. 

Lapwings are an amazing species and a beautiful one too! It would be a terrible shame to loose them, so get involved and help to prevent their decline!

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