Monitoring Breeding Waders in Wensleydale: trialling surveys carried out by farmers and gamekeepers

Author(s): Jarrett, D., Calladine, J., Wernham, C., Wilson, M.

Published: November 2017   Issue No.: 703

Publisher: British Trust for Ornithology

ISBN: 978-1-908581-85-3

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1. Wader populations have declined significantly in recent decades in the UK. During this time, areas of moorland managed for grouse shooting and associated farmland, especially rough pasture fringing moorland have been identified as persisting strongholds for breeding waders. However, these habitats are often poorly represented in existing wader surveys and monitoring projects due to issues such as remoteness, lack of available surveyors, and access constraints. Moreover, the farmers and gamekeepers who work in upland areas have often been overlooked as potential survey volunteers or sources of information on breeding waders.

2. The objective of this pilot project was to test methods for involving gamekeepers and farmers in surveying breeding waders and monitoring their nests, and to consider whether and how these methods could be applied more widely within the Yorkshire Dales National Park (YDNP) and similar areas. The work took place in the Wensleydale area of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, primarily at the Bolton Castle Estate. Over the course of the breeding season a BTO staff member worked with two estate gamekeepers and the landowner, and also spent time working with a YDNPA staff member and four of farmers from across Wensleydale.

3. During the 2017 breeding season, gamekeepers and farmers carried out breeding wader surveys at a range of sites across Wensleydale using survey methods tailored to fit with their work schedules. BTO staff and gamekeepers also worked together to monitor wader nests using temperature data loggers and trail cameras. We describe the survey and monitoring methods adapted for these specific stakeholder groups, considering aspects of these methods that worked successfully, as well as those that may require further development.

4. The breeding wader surveys revealed relatively high densities of Curlew, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Redshank and Snipe where habitats were appropriate for each species. In areas surveyed by both BTO field staff and gamekeepers/farmers, simple comparisons showed that the findings of these two groups of surveyors were comparable.

5. Thirty-four wader nests were monitored (8 Curlew, 2 Golden Plover, 21 Lapwing, 1 Redshank, 1 Oystercatcher, and 1 Snipe). Thirteen nests failed during the egg stage, of which ten were confirmed as predated. Nest predators identified by cameras were sheep (3 nests), Badgers (2), hedgehogs (2), unidentified mammal (1) a pet dog (1) and corvids (1). In addition, two nests were trampled by livestock and one was abandoned. Sheep have been rarely documented as a nest predator of breeding waders. Although based on a limited sample size, the results of this pilot study do suggest that more extensive monitoring would generate useful (and potentially surprising) information on wader nest predation.

6. The sample sizes of farmers (n = 4) and gamekeepers (n = 3) involved in the project were small, so statements about the attitudes, motivations or skill of participants in this report are unlikely to be wholly representative of their respective professions. The overriding intention of the work was to trial the suitability and practicality of survey methods for members of the relevant stakeholder groups, rather than to make generalisations about these stakeholder groups. 

7. Survey methodologies that fit into gamekeeper’s work routines have the potential for wide uptake and would generate useful data, provided that appropriate guidance was made available. Embedding the monitoring of breeding waders within the work practices of gamekeepers could prove to be an effective approach for improving the monitoring of breeding waders in key areas. Limited trials in Wensleydale suggest that designing a methodology that is compatible with typical workloads for farmers to carry out wader surveys would be more challenging.

8. For projects on wader conservation in upland moorland areas, there will be benefits of collaboration between diverse stakeholders. Shared participation in monitoring could help to build trust and promote knowledge sharing among participants, and to align conflicting interest groups behind one or more common objectives. Synergies could also be gained from sharing data and methods between projects and, where possible, following comparable methods and approaches. Drawing on data and results from different projects could increase our understanding about the drivers of change, and the consequences of management interventions.

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