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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 September 2006, 00:45 GMT 01:45 UK
Attempt to save declining lapwing
Lapwing   Image: RSPB
Lapwings are a common farmland bird, but numbers are waning (Image: RSPB)
A five-year project has been launched to halt the decline of the lapwing, a bird traditionally known as the "farmer's friend".

More than 250 farm sites have been chosen to test measures designed to help the species recover.

Lapwing numbers have declined in the UK by almost 50% since 1970.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), which backs the project, is urging ministers to add the lapwing to its list of threatened species.

Scientists have been developing measures to help lapwings in lowland parts of Britain for some time.

However, the species is more common in upland areas. Because of the extent of the lapwing's decline, researchers are now assessing how to assist these birds as well.

Lapwing numbers fell by 46% between 1970 and 2004, a decline that has been attributed to changes in farming such as the loss of mixed agriculture, and the draining of land.

Farm practices

The study - in the Peak District of Derbyshire, Lancashire's Forest of Bowland, the North Pennines, south-east Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - will compare upland farms where land is being managed to attract lapwings, with similar sites without lapwing-friendly management.

The findings will be used to improve government schemes that pay farmers for environmentally friendly practices.

Lapwing  Image: RSPB
The birds are more common in upland areas of the UK (Image: RSPB)
But there is concern that budget cuts at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) could hit bird recovery programmes.

Defra has been told to reduce its budget by nearly 200m over the next six months.

"Lapwings are primarily farmland birds and only a fraction of the UK's lapwing population breed on nature reserves," said Mark Bolton, research biologist at the RSPB.

"That means that the work of farmers is crucial, as is ensuring that improvements to farmland do not affect farm income. Finding ways of enabling farmers to manage habitats better is a key part of the project."

Known in some parts of the country as the "farmer's friend", lapwings eat flukeworms, which can cause disease in sheep.




SEE ALSO
Threatened bird returns to farm
03 Jul 06 |  Tayside and Central
Wetland birds hit hard by drought
19 Jul 05 |  Science/Nature

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