Wednesday 30 October 2013


The Scottish Gamekeepers Association is to declare 2014 the SGA Year of the Wader, fearing Scotland is about to follow Wales in seeing its wading birds decimated.Ground nesting birds such as lapwing, curlew and plover breed up to three times more successfully on grouse moors, due to heather burning and legal predator control by gamekeepers.However, keepers are deeply concerned that numbers are declining in these key areas, too, and the SGA is to dedicate 2014 to highlighting the need for tougher action.The representative group will invite all grouse moors in Scotland to report counts of wading birds, as well as their productivity at two critical times of the year.These figures will provide an accurate picture of how waders are faring on keepered land and will offer a baseline for similar counts in future years.Officials also hope the data can inform how proper management for waders, including legal predator control and rotational muirburn, can be delivered in areas that are failing.Scotland has lost 56 per cent of its lapwing and curlew in only 17 years with conservationists blaming climate change and habitat loss through farming practices.However, Scottish gamekeepers who work the land every day reckon this is only a small part of the story.They feel that unless Scottish government listens to practical land managers, waders could pass the point of no return and they see Wales as an example, where 75 per cent have been lost in the last few decades.“It is clear that new conservation responses are needed to help our vulnerable ground nesting birds,” said SGA Chairman, Alex Hogg. “Millions of pounds of tax payers’ money has been spent on costly habitat programmes through the advice of conservation bodies.“However, The State of Nature Report, which showed 60 per cent of the UK’s species continuing to decline, and the latest BTO Breeding Bird Survey, prove that this approach, when taken alone, has failed to deliver the answers for birds such as waders.“Our keepers, who have physically protected and work to protect Curlew, Lapwing and Plovers on their ground for years, have been warning that this is happening. We now have an imbalance in our uplands that needs to be addressed by government before Scotland goes the same way as Wales.”A study of the Berwyn Special Protection Area (SPA) in North Wales by GWCT analysed the trends of upland birds between 1983 and 2002 when grouse shooting ceased, gamekeepers were removed, and it became a National Nature Reserve (NNR).Formerly a rich grouse shooting area, the NNR is run by Countryside Council for Wales, with the largest block at Severn Trent Water operated as a bird reserve by RSPB.During the study period- in which grouse moor management stopped- lapwing became extinct, golden plover declined from 10 birds to one and curlew declined 79 per cent.Red grouse declined 54 per cent, Hen Harrier numbers crashed 50 per cent, black grouse declined by 78 per cent and now 75 per cent of Wales’ surviving black grouse population exists on the one remaining keepered moor at Berwyn.In the same period, protected buzzards doubled in abundance, peregrines increased seven-fold and raven numbers doubled.“Conservation in this country has centred around the advancement of protectionist policies, site designations and central hand-outs for habitat programmes without any stipulation for predator control.“When the public sees the return on investment with this approach, they are entitled to ask where the birds have gone and, if this has failed, why we continue to pay for and play a losing hand.“We believe the SGA Year of the Wader, and our ongoing counts, will help the government and the public realise what is happening and what needs to be done before conservation-listed Curlew and Lapwing, in particular, disappear.“It has been widely accepted that predation by larger predators can have a devastating affect on the survival of vulnerable prey species, particularly when the predators are increasing and their prey decreasing significantly. The Welsh example shows this, clearly.“The government needs to adapt to this scientific reality and use the legal licensing powers it holds (as it has done in Orkney recently by allowing islanders to bring greylag geese numbers back to sustainable levels to protect cereals crops) to relieve the pressure on some of our precious wild birds.“Licences have also been issued to protect sheep at lambing time from Ravens so there are already examples where the powers the government holds can be used to bring about positive results.“Throwing public cash, which will be siphoned by conservation groups for habitat schemes, without control of predators, is self-defeating.” Problems of Habitat Solutions without Proper Predator Control: Potts GR, 1980: The effects of modern agriculture, nest predation and game management on the population ecology of partridges: Advances in Ecological Research. This paper showed that predator control unlocked the potential of habitat improvement. Without predator control, generalist predators respond better to the habitat improvement than the birds it is designed to benefit. By agreement, the UK is required to take special measures to protect SPA sites.2005: Nature’s Gain: How gamebird management has influenced wildlife conservation says: Curlews are about 18 times more abundant in the North Pennines SPA, managed for grouse shooting, than they are in Berwyn SPA in Wales, a large part of which is managed as a bird reserve. The Upland Predation Experiment: Otterburn 2000-2009, undertaken by GWCT scientists over 9 years.4 plots of 1200 hectares on the same Northumberland moorland area were studied, two where gamekeepers controlled foxes, crows, stoats and weasel numbers.On the other two, there was no predator control. The study was then swapped over at the half-way mark. Summary: Lapwing, golden plover, Curlew, Red Grouse and Meadow Pipit bred almost three times as successfully on the plots with predator control compared to the plots without.23 per cent of pairs fledged young on areas without predator control compared to 64 per cent on areas where predator control was practiced. The findings, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology and summarized in 2010 paper, Waders On The Fringe, stated: • Agri-environment schemes on their own, without proper predator control, seem unable to give rise to an abundance of breeding waders or even bring about a significant improvement in sparse populations. • The low breeding success on our areas without proper predator control suggest that predation is likely to be contributing to population declines of waders elsewhere. • The contraction in breeding range of some waders, like lapwing and curlew may be being caused by, or at least aggravated by, predation during the breeding season.