A pioneering project to reverse the decline in lapwing numbers has been announced for the Avon Valley.
Thirty-five farmers who farm between Salisbury in Wiltshire and Christchurch in Dorset will take part in the scheme.
Urgent action is needed to reduce and reverse rapidly declining numbers of the iconic farmland bird.
Despite efforts to protect the bird’s habitats, lapwings have declined by up to 70% since the mid-1980s.
The Avon Valley has historically supported nationally important populations of breeding waders, including lapwing, redshank, and common snipe.
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In the 1980s, the valley was one of the top eight lowland wet grassland sites for breeding waders in the UK. However, despite habitat improvements aimed at waders, populations of lapwing have fallen from 260 breeding pairs in the 1980s to about 90 last year.
Studies show that the lapwing needs low-disturbance areas to breed, and shallow waters to feed and a mosaic of grass and crops at different heights for nesting and habitat.
The RSPB said the decline of the lapwing has been largely caused by “the loss of mixed farming and spring cropping, and the intensification of grassland management”.
Conservationists believe that as well as habitat loss, predation of nests by foxes and crows is a major factor limiting lapwing recovery.
The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) will manage the €1.25m (£1m) EU-funded project in partnership with Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust and Planning for Real.
The key aim of the four-year Waders for Real project is to increase the breeding success of lapwings and redshank, so that more young are fledged and numbers of breeding pairs start to increase.
Currently in lowland England, breeding wader populations are only being maintained on nature reserves.
The project aims to demonstrate the feasibility of restoring wader populations in the wider countryside by implementing a combination of habitat improvements and measures to reduce nest and chick predation.
It is hoped that the experience gained will feed into future government agri-environment schemes.
Dr Andrew Hoodless, GWCT head of wetland research, said: “There is no doubt that lapwings and other waders are in serious trouble.
“We have mostly identified the causes, but we need to work more closely with farmers to come up with practical and effective solutions for farmland outside of nature reserves.
“Guidance that can be tailored to individual circumstances, as well as the commitment of farmers to reversing declines, will be crucial to securing the future of these wonderful birds.”