Gamekeepers launch wading bird conservation project

Scotland’s gamekeepers will this week commence their biggest ever conservation project aimed at halting the decline of the nation’s vulnerable wading birds.

This year is the Scottish Gamekeepers Association’s Year of the Wader and gamekeepers on all grouse moors are getting ready to step up for nature.

Curlew, Lapwing and Golden Plover are frequent summer visitors to heather moorland breeding grounds managed by gamekeepers.

Scientific studies by Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) showed that waders breed up to three times more successfully on grouse moors, benefiting from legal predator control and habitat management of the staff.

However, across Scotland as a whole 56 per cent of Curlew and Lapwing have disappeared in 17 years, with Golden Plover dipping 18 per cent.

A 2014 report in Journal of Applied Ecology* states predation is a likely mechanism in the falls, alongside habitat change, and SNH is backing predation research through Scotland’s Moorland Forum.

Officials at the SGA are now asking all grouse keepers to note the numbers of the endangered birds as they go about their daily work.

They hope that the data will provide answers as to how conservation work to preserve the birds could be targeted effectively across Scotland.

“Gamekeepers, through their management, have provided the conditions to conserve waders for countless years, at no cost other than their own efforts and care as they go about their daily work.

“However, even on grouse moors, there is a concern at the declines and that is why we are doing this now,” said SGA Chairman Alex Hogg.

“What we are asking grouse keepers to do is to help us build a detailed map of breeding waders on their ground and create a baseline for future years.

“The birds are coming back now from their wintering grounds so we want people to record the presence of breeding pairs as accurately as they can.

“For those that are really keen or have the time, we would also like to record abundance with surveys just before eggs are hatched around May and again in late June/July when the numbers of fledged chicks can be noted.”

The call and trill of the Curlew and ‘peewit’ sound of the Lapwing are familiar on Scottish moors and gamekeepers are keen that this continues into the coming years.

They have sought guidance from GWCT on how best to gather the data and will be publishing information to encourage as much engagement as possible.

“Gamekeepers might be active in managing in a way that helps produce wildlife but, due to lack of time or working remotely, are not always the best at recording it.

“Whilst the principal aim here is to help wading birds, we also hope an off-shoot of this project is that it encourages gamekeepers to get into the habit of noting the wildlife on their ground so we can establish an accurate picture of biodiversity on managed moorland,” added SGA Chairman Alex Hogg.

Acclaimed wildlife photographer Peter Cairns believes it is important for wildlife managers to participate in frontline conservation.

He said: “It’s exciting to see SGA encouraging its members to get involved in wader conservation. The amount of ground covered by keepers across Scotland makes them ideally placed to monitor breeding success and to that end, keepers represent a valuable, if largely untapped, conservation resource.

“For too long wildlife management has been a battleground for conflicting conservation interests so this initiative sends out a strong intent on the part of SGA to mobilise their members to demonstrate the massive potential for biodiversity on the ground they manage.”

Minister for the Environment and Climate Change Paul Wheelhouse said: “I welcome the Scottish Gamekeepers Association’s Year of the Wader conservation project, which will see grouse keepers helping to monitoring the population of waders in Scotland. “I hope this and other similar work being done to conserve wading birds can inform us of the conservation work required to halt the decline of these important species which can be affected by predation of eggs, for example by foxes or crows, or arising from impacts on habitats either through climate change or the influences of changes in land use”.