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Sunday, 14 May, 2000, 04:25 GMT 05:25 UK
Endangered birds fly to London
lapwing
Lapwing: Natural habitat destroyed by farming
A species of bird that is disappearing from its traditional countryside home is making a remarkable comeback in south west London.

The Lapwing, which normally lives in marshes and moorlands in the countryside, was a common sight in the UK's countryside 10 years ago.

But a survey of the species carried out two years ago showed numbers had declined by 49% in the previous 11 years.

Now at least six pairs of lapwings are staging a comeback after setting up their nests in Barnes, south west London, at a new wetland reserve.

The Wetlands Centre has been created by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust out of four redundant Thames Water reservoirs on the banks of the River Thames.

Rapid decline

Ornithologist Dr Richard Bullock said the discovery of lapwings at the Wetlands Centre was very important.

"The fact that they are finding a niche here to breed and raise their young is particularly exciting," he told BBC News 24.



It's a national tragedy that everyone should be aware of

Jonathan Curtoys
RSPB
It is believed changes in farming practices are responsible for the rapid decline in the number of the lapwing in the countryside.

The switch from spring to autumn sowing, restricted birds' nesting areas, the loss of grassland and increased use of pesticides have all been blamed for limiting the food available for the chicks.

When the lapwing was surveyed in 1987 by the British Trust for Ornithology and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the breeding population was put at 200-250,000 pairs.

But when the survey was repeated in 1998, lapwing numbers had fallen by 49% in 11 years with only 120-140,000 pairs left.

Purpose-built lakes

Jonathan Curtoys of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said it was tragic that London was the only place to see lapwings.

"They have lost their habitat," he said. "It's ironic that we have to go to central London to see lapwing. 10-15 years ago we would have been able to see lapwing everywhere in the countryside.


Wetlands Centre
Lapwings have made the Wetlands Centre their new home
"It's a national tragedy that everyone should be aware of."

The lapwing is not the only rare species that has been spotted at the 30 purpose-built lakes and ponds at Barnes which aims to bring people closer to nature.

Over five years the site has been transformed by WWT from 40 hectares of concrete reservoirs into a diverse wetland reserve.

It opens to the public on Friday, 26 May.

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See also:

24 Sep 99 | Sci/Tech
Lapwing numbers halved in decade
02 Feb 99 | Sci/Tech
Clash over bird protection
29 Dec 98 | Sci/Tech
Help for threatened habitats
07 Feb 00 | Sci/Tech
Mixed fortunes for UK birds
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