Working for waders: Bringing wading birds back to Scottish farmland

Soil Association Scotland is inviting farmers and land managers to a free event at Threepwood Farm, Galashiels, on Thursday, June 6 to find out how they can integrate wader conservation into their businesses.

The charity warns numbers of wading birds are declining fast in Scotland, and if action is not taken now, these iconic species could disappear from farms altogether.

In the last 20 years, it claims curlews have declined by 60%, lapwings by 50%, and oystercatchers by 40%.

Farmer Colin Strang Steel of Threepwood, north Ayrshire, says that seeing these birds back on his farm has been very rewarding. He said small changes to his farming practices had helped accommodate waders

“We ploughed up one field to reseed it,” he explained, “And the moment we did, lapwings started arriving. To encourage them to stay, we created some scrapes on the adjoining field so they could have access to water.

I just think it gives you a much richer countryside if you can see these birds. There’s very little work once the birds arrive because you don’t want to disturb them too much, and it isn’t difficult to attract them.

“In more recent years, we’ve created a series of wetland areas where we now see lapwings, oystercatchers and the occasional curlew.

“Last year, I saw a greyhen [female black grouse] on adjoining ground – which is the first one I’ve seen here for 25 years.”

How to encourage your own waders

Advising others on how to make their farms more habitable for wading birds, Strang Steel said: “The first step is to create an area where these birds can access broken-up ground. Just plough a tiny area and leave it fallow.

Water is essential – but it doesn’t have to be a huge area and it can be very shallow. It’s very easy to do this, and to create the right sort of conditions you’re not taking a lot of good ground.

Steel also suggests conservation methods such as making wader scrapes, organising seasonal grazing and carrying out rush control.

“Some of this work may actively improve farm profitability, and funding is available to cover the cost of making a start,” she added.

This event is part of the Working for Waders initiative, which aims to reverse the decline of these important birds in Scotland.