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RSPB admits predator control benefits birds

The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) has welcomed a new study from the RSPB, which reveals a link between predator numbers and the decline in the number of upland waders, reports Will Finch.

Published in the scientific journal Bird Study, the RSPB’s work looked at five wading bird species and examined population changes across upland habitats.

The RSPB stated: ?Declines in lapwing numbers were greatest in areas dominated by heather. For this species, links to predation were also identified. Regionally, lapwing populations fared better on areas with more intensive grouse moor management (a management practice involving predator control and heather-burning) and worse where there were high crow numbers.?

The study also stated that golden plover suffered the greatest declines in areas where grouse moor management was more intensive.

However, the GWCT claims that its findings from the recent nine-year Upland Predation Research project at Otterburn indicated, for the first time, that the control of common predators significantly improved the breeding success of curlew, lapwing and golden plover.

Professor Nick Sotherton, director of research with the GWCT, said, ?We welcome this RSPB study, as it reinforces the message that predator control on grouse moors benefits declining species of birds, especially where crows are removed. It would be sad if we lost a significant fraction of our bird life through want of necessary wildlife management.?

Among its results, the RSPB’s study found a greater decline in the number of golden plover and snipe in upland landscapes with more forestry in surrounding areas.

Though the study concludes: ?The exact causes of this relationship are not known, it accepts that forestry is often beneficial to nesting crows or foxes, the main predators of upland waders. It goes on to suggest that, as waders breed on the ground, and are vulnerable to predation, afforestation might be one reason for the dramatic decline in wader numbers.?

Professor Sotherton noted: ?The evidence from our research is that such losses are not inevitable and the north Pennine area, which is almost entirely managed for grouse shooting and hosts high concentrations of waders, stands as a testament to the difference game management can make to conservation in the uplands.?

?Contrary to the RSPB?s study, we found that golden plover breed best on grouse moors and that survival rates are lower away from grouse moors. Indeed, our study found that 75% of golden plovers produced young on keepered plots, compared with only 18% where predators were not removed.?

The RSPB?s Dr Murray Grant said: ?The decline of upland waders has been a cause for concern for a number of years. This new research provides useful indicators on which factors might be important in driving declines in these splendid birds.?

Earlier this month, the RSPB was critical of Songbird Survival?s planned experimental study in conjunction with the GWCT to examine the impact of avian predators on farmland songbirds.