13 November 1998

Your feedback can help save the plover…

The British Trust for Ornithology has embarked upon a winter survey of green and golden plovers which winter on farmland throughout the country. Information from FARMERS WEEKLY readers would be very welcome.

Although breeding numbers of both species have been studied, information about wintering populations is lacking. All that is known is that wintering numbers could be in decline.

The birds are easily identified. The green plover, or lapwing, is black and white and has a head crest, while the golden plover is sharp-winged with brown mottled plumaged spangled with yellow.

The trust has discovered that flocks can be extremely mobile. Birds may use an area for several weeks and then move to another, perhaps several kilometres away, with no warning. Such behaviour could imply that birds are not present when in fact the area might support several thousand birds. Farmers know their land like the backs of their hands and are ideally placed to know what birds are where and when at any given time.

"Our main aim is to gain a better understanding of how wintering plovers use farmland," says survey organiser Simon Gillings. "This is especially important because numbers at some inland sites may be of international importance."

Plovers may prefer different crops at different times. Ploughing stubbles and harvesting sugar beet both turn over the soil and plovers quickly move to take advantage of exposed invertebrate prey.

Moon

phases may also affect birds feeding patterns, possibly because invertebrates are more active near the soil surface at certain times of the lunar cycle. Weather too, can have a major effect on plover food availability, in turn affecting flock sizes, foraging densities and the fields which are used.

&#42 Declining species

Given that the British breeding populations of both species are declining, it is essential that ornithologists know what is happening in winter.

The emphasis will be on areas known to hold large concentrations, especially of golden plovers, at some time during the winter. Participants can either select a study area themselves or obtain a list of likely locations from the BTO. Even if you do not think your farm qualifies for an intensive survey (involving 500 or more of each species), you can still contribute to casual records by recording flocks of more than 100 golden or green plovers.

Inquiries (01842-750050).

Tom Montgomery