The project work is guided by a comprehensive survey which takes place every five years and records wader breeding behaviours in 70 areas over 100 farms. The first survey took place in 2000 and the most recent in 2015. The 2020 survey was cancelled due to Covid-19 and is now planned for 2021.
The main wader species covered by the project are Lapwing, Snipe, Curlew, Oystercatcher and Redshank. Across the UK all five species have suffered alarming declines but in Strathspey the picture is not nearly so bleak, thanks largely to the farming systems there. All our waders species require damp grassland areas or wetlands for feeding and rearing chicks and the SWWI area provides that habitat.
Even in Strathspey numbers have dropped by 27% in the 15 years between 2000 and 2015, the decline in Lapwing and Redshank numbers in the same period (53% and 43% respectively) is also particularly concerning. However the more positive news is that overall numbers on the survey did increase by 16% between 2010 and 2015 *
Most farmers in Strathspey have beef suckler cattle herds and/or sheep. Crops grown are mainly silage or hay for winter feed for livestock there is some cropping of Spring Barley for the Whiskey Distilling industry along with some forage crops (eg turnips) for winter feeding of stock.
The agricultural system in Strathspey is not that intensive but there are still some agricultural improvements, such as drainage of land, that can affect our wildlife. Machinery is bigger and faster than it used to be and more chemicals are used in agriculture these days, the challenge for SWWI is to find a way to work with farmers to allow waders to thrive, whilst still running a viable farming business.
The Agri Environment climate scheme: This scheme allows farmers to tap into a pot of money provided by the Government (via Europe) to manage their land in wildlife friendly way. SWWI partners have worked with farmers up and down the Straths helping them to prepare successful applications. Farmers can receive a subsidy to keep stock off fields or at low densities when birds are on eggs and also to create small wet ponds or “scrapes” for feeding chicks. The scrapes can be quite small, from just 5 metres by 5 metres, and they need to be irregular in shape to create as much muddy edge as possible for chicks to feed on the insects using the scrapes.
Machinery loan scheme: SWWI owns a topper and a soil aerator that are available for all farmers to use on a loan basis for an administration fee. There is a wealth of research that points to a link between good soil health and an abundance of earthworms which are a key prey item for our waders. The aerator helps to overcome soil compaction which in turn contributes to good soil health. If rushes and other long vegetation are left to become rank the habitat becomes less attractive to waders. A combination of topping with a grazing regime can bring large areas back it better condition.
Habitat management projects: SWWI partners combine resources to directly deliver habitat management on farms up and down the Strath. There has been a small rolling programme of projects for several years including, rush topping and scrape creation, ditch profiling to create feeding areas for chicks and Liming. The pH of soil is another important component of soil health, earthworms thrive and grass growth is best at a soil PH of 6.0 to 6.2 which can be created with the addition of lime. Spring ploughed barley and silage fields also provide very important habitat for our waders.
Wader eggs and chicks are extremely vulnerable to predation by a range of mammals and other birds. As well as supporting the management of good wader habitat SWWI also supports the legal control of predators and work with communities and partners across the area to raise awareness of this subject.
Another key role of the project is to share knowledge and information about SWWI to the local community and the wider wader conservation sector. There is an ongoing programme of advocacy, PR and community engagement and SWWI run training events and demonstrations for farmers on a regular basis.
At present SWWI is receiving support from the Working for Waders project (WFW) which was set up in 2017 to raise awareness of wader declines and demonstrate how these declines can be reversed. More information about working for waders can be found here: www.workingforwaders.com
*For scientific reliability the same survey area has been covered since 2000 and this doesn’t include every single farm in Badenoch Strathspey.
Further, some data on some survey areas is considered to be unreliable so some farms are excluded from the data analysis.