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Evaluation of electric fencing as a means of increasing lapwing chick survival and overall productivity on fallow plots - LM0108

The lapwing has declined in numbers by 50% since 1983, leading to it being ‘red-listed’ as a species of conservation concern. The major cause of the decline is considered to be low productivity of fledged chicks. It is on the Section 41 ‘England Biodiversity List’ of the NERC Act (2006). Arable farmland holds over a third of the breeding lapwing population in England and Wales and fallow plots designed to provide scarce breeding habitat for lapwings and other ground-nesting farmland birds are currently provided through AES agreements in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. These options result in un-cropped rough fallow plots within arable fields suitable for lapwing nesting and foraging. There is considerable investment in fallow plots (estimated £6 million pa in England, with 17,000 ha of plots at £360/ha), and this is the major AES option available to try to increase productivity. However, evidence for their effectiveness at achieving this is limited. Preliminary analysis of data from 2012 and 2013 indicates that chicks were no more likely to fledge from fallow plots than from conventional spring crops and that fledging rates were not sufficient to maintain stable populations. Nest survival rates on fallow plots were high, but chick survival was low and was the cause of inadequate productivity. The major cause of chick death was predation, with starvation also important in the cold, wet spring of 2012. This project will test whether exclusion of large mammal predators from plots by electric fencing can increase chick survival sufficiently for overall productivity to exceed the threshold required for a stable lapwing population. The results of this study can feed back into English agri-environment scheme design and potentially improve their conservation outcomes.
The project will focus on survival of lapwing chicks hatched on fallow plots in Wessex and East Anglia. The main objective will be to compare chick survival and overall productivity on plots protected from foxes and badgers by electric fencing and on unprotected plots. We will collect data on the following:

(1) Overall productivity per plot (chicks fledged per pair).
(2) Chick survival rates and chick fates (daily survival rate, from which overall survival rate to fledging can be calculated; proportion of chicks lost to different causes).
(3) Brood ranges, time spent on plots and roosting locations (distances moved by chicks, proportion of time on the plot, proportion of nights spent on the plot).
(4) Chick diet and food availability (proportion of food items within faecal samples and biomass of suitable invertebrates from pitfall traps).
(5) Measures of mammalian and avian predator abundance-activity.
(6) Re-nesting frequency, particularly following the loss of young chicks, and its contribution to overall breeding success (likelihood that individuals re-nest following loss of nests and/or young chicks).

Fieldwork on all of these elements will be carried out concurrently at the same sites in spring and summer of 2014 and 2015, and data will be collated in the late summer and autumn of each year. Because fieldwork will be carried out at the same sites, all of these elements are interdependent.

Following the second field season, prior to the end of the contract in March 2016, the results will be written up as a journal article for a peer-reviewed publication.

Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2014

To: 2016

Cost: £211,198
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Game & Wildlife Conversation Trust, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds