Northern Ireland Lowland Breeding Wader Survey

Lapwing. Photograph by Howard Stockdale

Investigating whether Northern Irish lowland grasslands are supporting breeding waders.

This survey is no longer seeking volunteers.

In the late 1980s, a series of surveys discovered that lowland damp grassland areas were particularly important to Northern Ireland’s breeding waders, with over half the total estimated population being found in these sites (Partridge and Smith, 1992). Lowland sites which were surveyed as part of this original study had not been specifically revisited for breeding waders since.

To address this gap, repeats of the original 1980s surveys were conducted in the spring/summer of 2018 and 2019, recording numbers of breeding curlew, lapwing, redshank and snipe on 74 lowland grassland sites around Northern Ireland.

The Blackwater Catchment region in Counties Armagh and Tyrone had lost the greatest percentage of waders since the last survey of sites in 1985-87. Curlew was the hardest hit species, declining by 80% across all study sites. Sixty four percent of surveyed sites no longer supported breeding waders, with areas in County Fermanagh more likely to retain birds. Sites retaining breeding waders included both improved and rough grass, and fields with damp or flooded areas were important.

There is a need to improve survey coverage to assess the current status of breeding waders across the whole of Northern Ireland, designed to achieve a better understanding of the relative importance of changing predation pressures and habitats. More broadly, the training and recruitment of volunteers to participate in biological monitoring programmes should be a priority to ensure adequate levels of surveillance to identify conservation needs and measure the effectiveness of conservation initiatives.

The full report can be read here.


This work was funded by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency. Many thanks to the volunteers, professional fieldworkers and RSPB staff who surveyed the sites, recording counts of breeding waders, field-level habitat characteristics and site-level management and conditions. Thanks also to the landowners who so generously provided access to their land.


Partridge, J. K., & Smith, K. W. (1992). Breeding wader populations in Northern Ireland, 1985--87.Irish Birds, 4, 497–518.

Skill required

  • This survey is no longer seeking volunteers.

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