Habitat creation prompts breeding bonanza among wading birds

Written by WWT

Wading birds on the Ouse Washes have stunned staff at WWT Welney Wetland Centre by turning up in droves to breed thanks to newly created habitat, giving eager visitors the chance to see them rearing their chicks.

In 2008 just five pairs of lapwing bred on the former arable fields just beside the Ouse Washes. This year 67 breeding pairs of waders have been recorded in the same area, including lapwing, redshank, little ringed plover and avocet.

With the support of the Environment Agency and Natural England, WWT converted the two areas of farmland to wet grassland over two years, providing ideal habitat for the birds. The new habitat covers nearly 80 hectares, all visible from the cafe in Welney Wetland Centre.

Leigh Marshall, Reserve Manager at WWT Welney, commented: “That the birds have turned up in such huge numbers just goes to show that there’s a real demand for this type of habitat. Many farms once included wet fields like these but it is estimated about 45% were drained over the 20th century which has undeniably had an effect on wader numbers around the country.

“Our neighbouring farmers have been really supportive, providing livestock to graze the area which has kept the grass in tip top condition for the birds.”

WWT Chief Executive Martin Spray commented: “All around the world, populations of wading birds are declining, largely because their wetland habitats are being ruined. Globally 23 species of wader are red listed and another 20 species are heading in that direction. So we’re hugely proud to be able to report such a successful breeding season. It clearly demonstrates how important habitat is to conservation.”

Roger Gerry, from Natural England, added: “The figures speak for themselves, this is a huge boost to wetland birds in the Fens and for everyone that comes to enjoy seeing them. Natural England hopes to continue giving this project our support through our Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme in the future.”

WWT created the wet grassland by digging a system of ditches, channels and scrapes into the former arable land and seeding it with native grasses. As well as being a success with breeding waders this summer, the habitat has attracted huge numbers of ducks from the Arctic, which come to escape the harsh winter weather. Last winter saw a huge jump in the number of wintering wigeon with 1,600 seen on one day from the cafe, along with 540 other ducks.

But the real delight for staff and visitors alike has been the numbers of breeding waders throughout this spring. 33 pairs of lapwing, 29 pairs of redshank, 3 pairs of avocet and two pairs of little ringed plover have been recorded on the site.

Increase in numbers of breeding birds on new wet grassland at WWT Welney (Wading birds in bold in top four rows)

Bird species 2007
The area is still former arable land
WWT creates wet grassland on half the area
WWT creates wet grassland on the remaining half
The whole area is wet grassland
Northern Lapwing 1 5 9 33
Common Redshank 7 29
Little Ringed Plover 2
Avocet 3
Tufted Duck 2
Common Shelduck 1 8
Gadwall 1 4
Mallard 1 6 10
Shoveler 6 13
Common Moorhen 2
Eurasian Coot 5
European Skylark 3 12 12 21
Meadow Pipit 3 6 4 14
Western Yellow Wagtail 2 1
Sedge Warbler 2
European Reed Warbler 1 2
Goldfinch 1 1
Linnet 8 3
Common Reed Bunting 4 4 1 2

Corn Bunting

4 6
Ring-necked Pheasant 2
Total 12 27 65 163

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