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Friday, September 24, 1999 Published at 15:07 GMT 16:07 UK


Lapwing numbers halved in decade

Lapwing numbers have fallen by half in ten years: The species is now causing concern (Photo: Theo Verstrael)

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

A farmland bird once common across most of the United Kingdom is in the throes of a rapid decline.

The bird, the lapwing, was surveyed in 1987. The breeding population was then put at 200-250,000 pairs.

But when the survey was repeated in 1998, it found that the lapwing's numbers had fallen by 49% in 11 years.

The British Trust for Ornithology and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, who carried out the survey, say they think there are now only 120-140,000 pairs.

Huge drop in Wales

A separate survey in Scotland last year found lapwings in only 20% of the areas monitored, but there are no accurate figures from 1987 for comparison.

Wales showed the greatest losses, with a decline of 77%. The area with the largest number of birds is the north of England.

The survey co-ordinator, Andy Wilson of the BTO, says farming changes are largely to blame, especially the switch from spring to autumn sowing, which restricts the birds' nesting areas.

[ image: Much modern farming does not favour wildlife]
Much modern farming does not favour wildlife
The loss of grassland and increased pesticide use also limit the food available for the chicks.

He told BBC News Online: "I don't think the lapwing population will ever return to the state it was in 30 or 40 years ago".

"But it may be possible to arrest the decline in some areas, while in others they will become rare or else may vanish altogether.

"And what is happening to them is also happening, in some degree, to many other farmland species."

On the list

Dr David Gibbons, the RSPB's head of research, said the decline was so big "that it will certainly make the lapwing the latest candidate for addition to the list of birds of the highest conservation concern in the UK".

The lapwing, also known as the peewit, peasweep or green plover, prefers open country with short vegetation.

The name is derived from the Old English "hleapwince", meaning "a leap with a waver in it", which birdlovers say aptly describes its display flight.

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