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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 June, 2003, 23:00 GMT 00:00 UK
UK wading birds in decline
Curlews have declined by 40%
Britain's wading birds are continuing to decline at an alarming rate, according to a new survey.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds says species such as snipe, lapwing and curlew are suffering from the drainage of land to grow crops.

Wading birds were once a common sight on the flooded meadows of Britain's countryside

However, as the countryside has dried out, due to the long-term effects of land drainage, the populations have dwindled.

The census by the British Trust for Ornithology looked at sites last surveyed in 1982, when there was already concern about the effects of land drainage for agriculture.

Since then, snipe have declined by 60%, and both lapwing and curlew by 40%.

Waders in decline
Snipe - down by 60%
Lapwing - down by 40%
Curlew - down by 40%

The RSPB says that in some regions, snipe are approaching extinction.

The charity is also alarmed that six nature reserves now hold more than half of the combined population of snipe, lapwing and redshank in lowland England and Wales.

They are the Lower Derwent, in Yorkshire, the Nene Washes, in Cambridgeshire, the Norfolk Broads, the North Kent Marshes, the Ouse Washes, in Cambridgeshire, and the Somerset Levels.

It is calling for bigger grants from the government to encourage farmers to recreate water meadows, many of which were destroyed with the help of subsidies for drainage available until the 1980s.

Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB's Director of Conservation, said: "The experience of seeing lapwing, snipe and redshank in the spring should be a familiar part of the countryside and it is a tragedy that once widespread birds are now largely confined to the oases of nature reserves within the desert of the wider countryside."

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