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Lapwing [peewit] in Decline in the UK.

Updated on August 4, 2015


Familiar Wild Birds {1800's}
Familiar Wild Birds {1800's}

Notes from a Lancashire Countryman.

When I was a young lad the countryside of Lancashire became my second home. hardly a day went by without seeing the Lapwing tumbling and wheeling over farmland uttering its plaintive cry of "pee-wit" a call that gave rise to one of its alternative name in many country areas. Lapwings are also known as the green plover due to its metallic green plumage and it being a member of the plover family. The plumage consists of iridescent green on its back and tail {which looks black from a distance}. The under parts are white with a bright chestnut under tail. The long crest is a distinctive feature of both the male and female birds, growing longest in the breeding season. The legs are of a dark pink colour and the relatively small bill is black.

Some lapwings are migratory. Birds in the south of the country tend to head south to Spain and Portugal, while those in the North West tend to move south west to Ireland. When these British birds leave for the winter Britain is still of great importance to those of Scandinavian origin which spend the winter in our relatively mild climate.

Lapwings nest on bare ground or where vegetation is short. Wherever the bird chooses to nest it is if vital importance that there is an abundance of invertebrates for the chicks. The males spectacular display flight over a particular field is a good indicator that the area is being used for breeding. Another way in which the bird informs of this fact ,as many a countryman will tell you , becomes apparent should you inadvertently stray into a breeding area. For this will lead to the birds dive bombing you coming very close to your head while uttering its loud cry. This is an intimidating experience for those not use to the ways of the Lapwing. The birds aggression is just a ploy to distract you from the location of the nest. They also fain injury as a ploy. This may consist of flapping around on the ground as though they have incurred an injury to their wing. Once predators have been drawn away from the locality of the nest and are approaching the bird, it will quickly take to the wing, out of harms way.

The nest which is but a depression in the ground lined with grass. The eggs,normally four, are of a stone coloured background with bold dark markings. They blend in well with the locality of the nest. Incubation takes around four weeks and the bulk of the incubating is done by the female. The eggs were once collected in days gone by { now an illegal activity } to supply restaurants and other eating establishments being rewarded with a good price for the service. The chicks leave the nest immediately and are cared for by both parents. They become independent in 35-40 days. Both the nest and chicks rely on their excellent camouflage and are seldom encountered by the casual observer.

The main habitat in Lancashire for the lapwing is grazed pasture land;spring sown arable fields close to pasture or wetland habitats. Alas this our commonest wader is suffering a decline in numbers. Following a national breeding bird survey carried out in 1987, the breeding population was estimated at 190,00-240,000 pairs a decline of over 25% since 1974, thus, the species was added to the Amber list of conservation concern {moderate concern}. However, a repeat survey carried out in 1998, indicated an additional decline of almost 50% in breeding numbers which would qualify the Lapwing as a "Red List" species and was included in the U.K. Biodiversity Action Plan. {B.A.P.} A Species Action Plan {S.A.P.} was formulated for the species with each county following similar strategies in order to help the species recover these losses. So, the Lancashire S.A.P. came into being.

LOCAL STATUS--The lapwing is still a widespread breeding bird in the county. It is likely that the Lancashire population is considerably larger than in arable dominated areas in the south east of England. There are still reasonable populations in upland pastures throughout Lancashire, in particular the Forest of Bowland. An RSPB. survey of agricultural land in Bowland in 1998 estimating the breeding population to be 2,740 pairs. Large populations also exist on arable land and pasture on the Lancashire coastal plains, and on grazed salt marshes of the Ribble and Morecambe Bay { an important wintering area for waders in general}. The total population for Lancashire and north Merseyside is estimated to be 7,000 pairs.

Lapwings will dive bomb intruders

Lapwings can be aggressive if you stray on to a breeding area. Photograph by Amos. T.Fairchild.
Lapwings can be aggressive if you stray on to a breeding area. Photograph by Amos. T.Fairchild.

What Are the Causes of This Decline?

The lapwing tends to choose nesting sites in short vegetation away from hedges, walls or trees. The general shift from spring sown to autumn sown cereals has resulted in loss of much suitable nesting habitat. This because by the time the birds start to raise their broods the crops are taller than they would like it to be. The species has always suffered some losses of early clutches due to routine farming activities such as rolling and chain harrowing because of their ground nesting habit. On pasture trampling by cattle and other livestock is always a threat and it is exacerbated by high stock densities. Increased predator numbers may also have taken a larger toll.

Soon after hatching the adult lapwings lead their chicks to invertebrate- rich feeding areas. The decline of mixed farming has separated suitable chicks' feeding habitat from arable nesting habitat ; In addition, the drainage of farmland has reduced the number of suitable feeding areas. It is also probable that the widespread use of pesticides is having a negative affect on food sources, in particular the disposal of sheep dip and the presence of invermection { a livestock endoparasite treatment} in animal dung may be killing invertebrate food on pastures.

WHAT IS BEING DONE TO HELP THE LAPWING ?---At the outset of the Lancashire Species Action Plan for the lapwing it was thought that the Countryside Stewardship Scheme options for sensitive management of pasture would benefit farmland birds. The options include provision for low spring sown grazing levels and water level management. However, the Scheme, whilst it encourages the improvement of field margins habitat on arable land, offers little direct benefit for lapwings because they generally frequent areas of open land away from field edges.

Lapwings increasingly use rotational set aside for nesting, but this is not considered efficient for them. { this set aside scheme is of a temporary nature and may be scrapped at the whim of politicians}. The R.S.P.B. has produced management guide lines that suggests measures that can be taken to manage habitat for a range of lowland farmland birds including the lapwing.

National surveys for lapwings are undertaken periodically which include survey plots in Lancashire. It will also be monitored by the British Trust for Ornithology Breeding Birds Survey.

THE BROAD OBJECTIVES OF THE PLAN--- is to halt and eventually reverse the decline in numbers. The ways they hope to achieve this includes-- To ensure that lapwings remain present in good numbers throughout their range in the county. seek to secure the sympathetic management of farm habitat for lapwings { in particular that farmland has suitable nesting sites in existence throughout the county}. To liaise with land owners and land managers to promote low intensity management of pastures, mixed arable farming and the retention of winter stubble. To highlight the vulnerability of lapwing nests to rolling and harrowing. To promote the use of nest guards in areas of high stock density to stop trampling. To encourage research into aspects of lapwing ecology relevant to its conservation in Lancashire. To investigate the possible effects of anti-parasitic treatments and livestock trampling

The S.A.P. for this species is also linked to the S.A.P.s of the brown hare and the skylark. And to the Habitat Action Plan for Arable Farmland Habitat.

The latest trend for the lapwing. is unfortunately, still in decline . the latest figures from the British Trust for Ornithology is showing a decline of 53%. To compound this they draw special attention to three other species that have recently crossed the 50% threshold in a 25 year period. These are the yellow wagtail { -70% } Cuckoo { -61%} willow warbler {-58%} . They are currently Amber listed {moderate concern} but are candidates for addition to the Red list at the next revision. {Priority Species of conservation concern}.

The plight of the lapwing will be updated here as and when.


A Bird in Decline

The green plover or lapwing is facing serious declines in the U.K. photograph by Andreas Trepte.
The green plover or lapwing is facing serious declines in the U.K. photograph by Andreas Trepte.


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi Nell Rose thank you for your comments. You are indeed fortunate to have red kites on your doorstep. These fork-tailed birds of prey are somewhat of a success story as far as conservation is concerned. They have been reintroduced into Yorkshire and the Cotswolds. But their stronghold is still Mid-Wales. Nice to hear from you.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      9 years ago from England

      A lovely bird. We must save all the indangered species, because we won't know they are gone, until one day we will say. oh what happened to that bird.... and then it will be to late. I am very very lucky. Every time I open my balcony door, I look up and see approx eight Red Kites, about 30ft above my head. Their nest is in the tree right in front of me! how lucky is that? I stand for hours just watching them wheeling and swooping. they even play tag with one another. it is great. I think there were only one or two about twenty years ago, around here but now we have got loads. The funny thing is the blackbirds and smaller birds, always attack them because they believe they are a danger to their young. it is funny seeing a couple of tiny blackbirds dive bombing the kite, and the kite flying madly away! I have tried to get a picture on my camera, but they are just too quick. Thanks again. Nell

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Nice to meet a fellow Lancastrian and thank you for taking the time to read the hub and to make your comments. As you will be aware Morecambe Bay, apart from being a beautiful area, is of vital importance for over wintering waders in Britain.

    • Sufidreamer profile image


      9 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      Thanks for that, D.A.L - I am originally from Morecambe Bay and volunteered at Leighton Moss for a while, so Lapwings are close to my heart.

      I hope that the plan is successful - the coastline would not be the same without them.

      Best of luck :)

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      wow, thanks for reading so soon and thanks for your encouraging comment.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      beautiful pictures and words.... enjoyed it so much


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