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Reducing the impacts of predation on breeding waders using landscape-scale habitat management - LM0301

Populations of lowland wading birds have declined severely, with remaining populations now largely
restricted to nature reserves and protected areas. For example, the lapwing has declined by over 50% since
the 1970s, is red-listed in the Birds of Conservation Concern and is one of the 52 birds on the Section 41
species list that government consider are “of principal importance for the conservation of biodiversity in
England” (following the NERC Act 2006). There is increasing recognition that conservation efforts to recover
populations of previously widespread species should follow landscape-scale approaches of improving habitat
within, around and between existing sites, to increase their size and connectivity (Making Space for Nature,
Lawton et al. 2010). In lowland wet grasslands, agri-environment schemes such as Environmental
Stewardship are the main mechanisms for delivering improved habitat, with an annual spend of £15.1 million
on wet grassland options with wader objectives. However, empirical evidence suggests that high levels of
predation from generalist predators are severely limiting wader breeding success, and thus constraining the
potential for population recovery. Although predation pressure can be managed by lethal control or predator
exclusion, these are not cost-effective or desirable long-term solutions, and would be difficult to implement at
landscape-scales and as agri-environment options. Identifying non-lethal solutions to the predation issue,
that can benefit breeding wader populations in the wider countryside, is therefore of great importance.

Over the last decade, the RSPB and the University of East Anglia have developed a unique long-term study
of wader breeding success on wet grasslands. These studies have identified habitat management techniques
that are associated with differing levels of nest predation, primarily from mammalian predators. Lapwing
nests are less likely to suffer predation in the centre of wet fields, and in close proximity to tall vegetation.
These factors could affect how predators forage in the landscape, with water restricting predator movements
within fields and taller vegetation providing both small mammal prey and shelter. The priority now is to
quantify whether the same processes operate outside nature reserves, and thus to identify how current
Environmental Stewardship options for wet grassland can be developed to reduce the impacts of predators
on breeding waders. To accomplish this, we will (i) measure nest predation rates for waders in the wider
countryside in relation to the factors known to affect predation rates on reserves (field wetness & availability
of tall vegetation), (ii) assess the extent to which grassland HLS options support small mammal populations
(the primary prey of most nest predators), and (iii) assess the importance of different nest predators for
waders nesting in the wider countryside and within nature reserves. The proposed project may provide Defra
with habitat management recommendations that could be used to reduce predation rates in wider
countryside wader populations and could be delivered using agri-environment options. Importantly, the two
years of data collected during this initial study would provide a credible baseline incorporating likely interannual
variation in predation rates, against which the success of habitat management recommendations
could be tested experimentally in subsequent, potentially Defra-funded, research. Ultimately this could lead
to robust recommendations for the future management of lowland wet grassland landscapes and the
restoration of wader populations to the UK countryside.
Our broad research aim is to test whether the relationships derived on nature reserves, between wader nest predation rates and habitat management, also exist in the wider countryside. This study will be carried out over two years in the Norfolk Broads by the RSPB. Specific objectives are to:

Objective 1: Determine the extent to which existing HLS grassland options support small mammal populations.
Objective 2: Investigate the influence of landscape structure and field management on nest predation rates in wider countryside wader populations.
Objective 3: Compare nest predation rates and the identity of predators on wider countryside wader populations and managed reserves.
Objective 4: Identify habitat management techniques that have potential to benefit nesting success of wider countryside breeding waders for future testing in a follow-up habitat manipulation experiment.

Objectives 1-3 are independent of one another. However, objective 4 is dependent on the successful completion of objectives 1-3.
Project Documents
• FRP - Final Report : Defra final report: Main project LM0301   (1212k)
• TPS - Two Page Summary : LM0301 2 pg summary   (467k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2013

To: 2016

Cost: £228,425
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
Environmental Stewardship