Lapwing

Lapwing - Nick Upton/2020VISION/naturepl.com

Claire Rowan explores the lapwing, or 'peewit'.

Another sure sign of spring is the sight of the whirling aerial display antics of male lapwings as they tumble dramatically through the sky accompanied by a piercing ‘peewit’ call. This ‘peewitting’ gives rise to one of their several common names.

Their official Latin name is Vanellus meaning ‘little fan’ that refers to their flopping, flapping flight, while the name lapwing itself derives from an Old English term meaning ‘leap with a flicker in it’.

Many return to Europe to breed at this time of year, but here in the UK, we are lucky to see pairs who have chosen to stay put and nest along our shores and in open farmland. While the males perform, females can be spotted on their nests - simple scrapes in the mud or sand from where they like to have a good view of any potential predator. Here, they will nurture, usually batches of four, well-camouflaged eggs. Both parents take responsibility for guarding the nest from predators, who they will fly at in ferocious defence or lure away from the nest with distracting flight displays.

Once very familiar birds on our farmlands and wetlands, lapwings are now classified as 'Red listed' (which means they are in need of urgent help) under the Birds of Conservation Concern in the UK, due to lack of habitat and the fact that their eggs have been plundered over the centuries.

Watch out in autumn, too, as the arrival of returning migrating flocks of lapwings signals the onset of winter.

What are we doing to help?

Suffolk Wildlife Trust is part of the Suffolk Wader Strategy. This consists of a core group of organisations who have come together to arrest and reverse the decline in wader populations in Suffolk, with a focus on the coastal area. Together, as organisations working effectively in partnership, we have the ability to influence land management both on our nature reserves and more widely across the countryside. You can find out more about how we're working together to help wading birds here.

North East Suffolk Sites manager Matt Gooch explains the work we are doing for lapwing at Carlton Marshes:

For the previous three years we have worked closely with the RSPB Science team to closely monitor the population of waders on the reserve and this included the experimental use of temporary electric fencing to reduce predation pressures with all nests that we could locate being monitored with a combination of data loggers (small tabs that record temperature change in the nest and then allow you to see when the predation occurred) and trail cameras (watching nests for fledging and predation).

The results of this research has informed how we designed and created the new habitats at Carlton Marshes

We have restored and created around 60ha of grazing marsh by restoring water levels and wet features like scrapes and footdrains that create the muddy edges that wader chicks require. To sustain productivity, we have also added anti-predator gated entrances and plans are afoot to add anti-predator fencing to ensure that we achieve as good a productivity as possible.  This has helped extend the complex of lapwing work that occurs in the Lower Waveney on our reserve at Carlton Marshes but also on neighbouring farmland. These different pieces of land create the complicated mosaic of habitat these birds require.

Help lapwings and other animals by keeping dogs on leads

With all the pressures on these birds at this time of year it is really important that visitors continue to keep their dogs on leads and reduce the disturbance that a loose dog can cause.  Disturbance is always hard to explain but a loose dog can put up an incubating adult bird that then makes that nest viewable by a watching predator, maybe a crow or fox, and the more times that this occurs, the increased chance that these wader populations will not fledge enough chicks to sustain the population let alone allow it to grow for future generations to witness.

 

Andrew Excell, South East Suffolk Sites Manager, explains the work we are doing for lapwing at Trimley Marshes

 

Trimley Marshes has been something of a jewel in the crown for breeding waders since the reserve was created in 1989. However, by 2013 some areas of the reserve were clearly showing poor breeding productivity. Following a period of systematic recording of mammal movements with trail cameras, it was found that one region of the reserve was increasingly being used by foxes and badgers. Both species will take eggs and chicks from nests if they find them, but furthermore, the presence of foxes and badgers can be enough to prevent birds attempting to breed in the area in the first place.

SWT launched the “Save our Chicks” appeal and were successful in securing funds from Veolia Environmental Trust and Suffolk Coast & Heaths Sustainable Development Fund. These grants enabled the significant cost of installation of an ‘anti-predator’ fence to be met. The fencing was installed in late 2014, immediately following creation of significant new wetland scrapes and islands, sluices and foot drains on the reserve to provide fresh breeding and chick feeding habitat for waders.

In the years since this work was completed, the main grazing marsh areas of the reserve have become increasingly productive for breeding waders, complementing the best breeding lagoons on the reserve. Breeding trends are now the best for many years and, in 2019, Trimley Marshes was the most productive breeding wader site in Suffolk for lapwings, redshanks and avocets. It also regularly supports flocks of over 2500 overwintering lapwings each year.

 

Listen to Carlton Marshes at dusk

The soothing sounds of lapwing, avocet and redshank on Peto's Marsh