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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 July 2005, 14:09 GMT 15:09 UK
Wetland birds hit hard by drought
Lapwing, RSPB
Lapwings are suffering in the dry weather
Wading birds in south-east England look set to be amongst the casualties of this year's drought, the RSPB has said.

The numbers of lapwing, redshank and snipe have dropped by about 80% at five reserves around Kent and Sussex.

The birds need boggy grassland or damp meadows in which to nest and find food.

However, their numbers have tumbled over the last 25 years, particularly in lowland areas, because of climate change and low rainfall, the RSPB says.

"Some of the birds affected are already just clinging on in the areas where water shortages are most severe," said Phil Burston, senior water policy advisor at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

"The south-east is undoubtedly drying up. To save our wetlands, our wildlife and the livelihoods that depend on them we must stop wasting so much water in our homes and gardens."

Steep decline

According to a survey completed in 2002, snipe numbers in the south-east of England were down 96% to just 10 pairs; lapwing were down 61%; and redshank were down 42%.

Climate change and water shortages pose a very real threat
Phil Burston, RSPB
Since then, lapwing and redshank had begun to recover on RSPB reserves, because of a concerted effort to manage the wetlands. But even these sanctuaries could not withstand the winter and spring drought this year.

If the dry weather continues, the RSPB claims, the effects could be long lasting.

"It's a disaster waiting to happen," said Alan Johnson, site manager of RSPB reserves in north Kent. "If we get too little winter rain the cracks will not close and what rain there is will just seep through instead of staying on the surface and creating the boggy sites that waders need."

The RSPB fears the construction of thousands of new homes in the UK's driest areas, and the subsequent demand for water, could seriously damage hopes of saving the south-east's breeding waders.

The charity would like new homes to be designed with water conservation in mind.

"We could annually save 10 billion litres of water, and our wetland wildlife, if these new homes were built to the highest water efficiency standards and if existing properties had water-saving devices installed," said Mr Burston.

"Climate change and water shortages pose a very real threat but action now by the government, house builders and water customers could save our beautiful wetland heritage, the charismatic wildlife that depends on it and reduce thousands of annual water bills at the same time."

How the drought is threatening wetland birds

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