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Farmer Success Story: The Joys of Making Space for Nature

Written by Colin Strang Steel

On our farm in the Scottish Borders, the excitement starts to build in the early part of the year when waders and lapwings start to arrive. Ever since we ploughed out a 30-acre field from grass to put it through a rotation some 12 years ago lapwings have been coming to this same field every year, with a result that the field has not been put back to grass. When the lapwings arrive from early February the field is “bare” – either from stubble or a root crop having been eaten down by sheep during the winter. The lapwings nest in this field and once their young have fledged they move a short distance to an area where there are a series of interconnecting ponds surrounded by grass and rushes. The grass beside the ponds is kept short, which is what the lapwings like, and an area of about 1 acre close by is ploughed out and left fallow for the lapwings to forage in.

This year Working for Waders provided us with a nest camera so that we could monitor a lapwing on her nest. Despite enduring rain, snow and a lot of cold weather, the lapwing, which the nest camera was focused on, hatched two chicks. This was a success story as so many ground-nesting birds fail to hatch due to the major problem of predation.  Predator control is an essential part of realistic conservation,  and unless it is carried out effectively, providing the right habitat and food source are largely wasted. It was a real pleasure to see so many lapwing chicks in the field during the early part of the summer.

In our area, we have an informal group of seven farms covering an area of around 7,000 acres to try and work together to improve conditions for all waders (including curlews, lapwings and oystercatchers). There is much work that could be undertaken to provide the right sort of habitats, such as the creation of wader scrapes and the management of grassland and rushes, largely funded by the Agri Environment Climate Scheme (AECS) which has now finished. It is vital that a new scheme is rolled out very shortly if all the good work undertaken through the previous schemes is not to be undone, and with so much potential to do more for waders (and indeed farmland and songbirds) a new support scheme is urgently required.

Photos by Colin Strang Steel