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The Lapwings' Diary

26th Oct 2020

In our report on the number of birds counted in 2020, there was a positive story on the steady rise of Lapwing (Peewit) numbers on our Upland.

The LivingUplands photographer kept a diary of a number of Lapwings, from April to June, to add a little colour and additional information to the basic data the annual count provides.

Despite the good news about numbers generally, life for Lapwings is not without its challenges.

First, we had a very dry Spring.

Once hatched, within a couple of days the new family would usually move to where there are lots of insects to eat. In a wet spring (quite normal) this can be close by. In dryer weather than can be hundreds of yards away from the original nest, and the dryer the weather the greater the challenge in finding a suitable feeding area.

Second, there is predation. Predation is always a risk for birds that nest in relatively open spaces, on hard ground, and on the move. The Lapwing is no exception. Our diarist noted that early in May a nest of four chicks were predated, and that later in the month one hatch of four was quickly only three. And an adult was also predated. This year the biggest culprits are likely to be herring gulls and Black Backed Gulls (lesser and greater), of which more were spotted than in previous years.

Possibly the gulls that are a usual problem in seaside towns flew inland for easy feeding to replace the usual easy access to discarded chips and takeout remnants, due to lack of visitors this Spring. Even in local towns, sea gull sightings were less than previous years, perhaps because there weren't people out and about to leave food waste for the gulls' convenience.

We know gulls are voracious eaters and happy to gorge on food and then sit about digesting…

In previous years, local land managers were able to control numbers of gulls predating ground nesting birds, but the General Licence that enabled that control was not available from Natural England this year in respect of predatory gulls - something NE has promised it is looking into as a matter of urgency.

Finally, as a consequence of the circumstances of COVID there were many more walkers, and dogs, taking to the hills for exercise and the experience of the great outdoors. That inevitably created some disturbance that upset ground nesting birds, including Lapwings nesting on rougher, stonier, ground were more likely to be close to paths and tracks than others hidden among the grasses and heather.

All of that is not to undermine the generally good news that of the six nests recorded there were 18 young hatched. One entire hatch of 4 were predated almost immediately, and one from a later hatch of four. Which means that a total of thirteen young survived the nest before (hopefully) heading on to wetter ground for feeding in those important early days. It would be wonderful to imagine they all survived and will be part of the future Upland population.

It is in the hands of Natural England to take a more considered approach in respect of addressing predation issues in respect of our endangered ground nesting birds - Lapwings are not alone in being easy prey for a greedy gull.

For walkers in the uplands we want everyone to enjoy our wonderful landscape, of course, but please remember to respect the countryside, especially in the season when ground nesting birds are prevalent, and to please keep your dog on a lead.