Cumbria Crack

Farmers and gamekeepers try breeding wader surveys

The Dales are a stronghold for breeding waders such as curlew. John Harding, BTO images

[R]esearch carried out by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and part-funded by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) has suggested that breeding wader survey methods can be successfully developed for gamekeepers – but that creating a workable methodology for farmers will be “more challenging”.

The rough pastures of the Dales appear to be a stronghold for nationally-declining breeding waders such as curlew, lapwing and snipe. However, there is limited information on population trends because of the remoteness of much of the area and the small number of available surveyors.

BTO researchers set out this spring to test whether suitable and practical survey methods could be developed for gamekeepers and farmers.  They worked with Bolton Estate gamekeepers in Wensleydale, as well as the YDNPA’s wildlife officer and farmers taking part in a pilot payment scheme in the dale.

An end of project report has just been published on the YDNPA’s Nature in the Dales website.

Lead researcher from the BTO, David Jarrett, said survey methodologies which fitted into gamekeepers’ work routines had the potential for wide uptake:

“Embedding the monitoring of breeding waders within the work routines of gamekeepers could improve monitoring in key upland strongholds. The gamekeepers involved in the pilot project had the survey skills necessary to generate useful data on breeding waders, and were able to carry out the surveys in the course of their regular work duties.

“Gamekeepers were also involved in wader nest monitoring with trail cameras and temperature data loggers, which provided information on nest success rates and nest predation events. Both the surveys and nest monitoring, if rolled out across a larger scale, have the potential to generate valuable data which could help inform conservation management for breeding waders.

“More work is needed on appropriate methods for involving farmers in wader monitoring. But it’s clear that there are significant benefits to working collaboratively with farmers and gamekeepers, such as knowledge sharing and improved trust between interest groups.”

Wildlife Officer at the YDNPA, Ian Court, said:  “The breeding wader season coincides with lambing, when farmers are working tremendously long hours.  Farmers also tend to have less of a routine than gamekeepers, so building bird monitoring into their day – as part of any future agri-environment scheme – will take time to develop.

“However, there are grounds for optimism that farmers can take on a key role in the conservation of breeding waders.  All four farmers involved were really positive about knowing what was happening in terms of the number of waders on their land.    They are proud of the nature on their farms, and recognise that future public support for farming is likely to be linked to demonstrating that they are delivering public benefits.

“The enthusiastic way in which the gamekeepers took to monitoring is really encouraging.  Those that took part in this research already knew a lot about the birds and could distinguish between different species, calls, songs and behaviours. As gamekeepers are on the moor for a significant proportion of their working day, they are ideally placed to help survey breeding waders.  The Authority hopes that all stakeholders can build on the success of this research, with a view to establishing more coordinated survey work across the national park.”

For full details of the methodologies used during the research, please see the report. The full address is here:

The YDNPA contributed £5,000 towards the research.  Other funding was provided by the BTO and the Tanfield Charity Clay Pigeon Shoot.

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