We are delighted to announce our lapwing population at Lark Rise Farm in Cambridgeshire is now well-established – and we’ve celebrated an excellent breeding season. 

We had a record five pairs of lapwings at the farm this year. Last year, we had three pairs on site, which were very productive, fledging 10 chicks between them. 

This year the breeding season saw all five pairs incubate their eggs through the four weeks to reach hatching stage, which is an excellent result as foxes and crows often eat the eggs and bad weather can cause them to fail. 

All pairs managed at least one chick through to the fledging (flying) stage. The families have now left Lark Rise as once they can fly, they move to a wetland with good feeding, perhaps to the coast or an estuary and gather with other lapwing families. 

CRT Conservation officer Vince Lea said: “They have depleted all the food supplies on Lark Rise so it makes sense to go somewhere else. We hope they will be back next February.” 

Vince explains Lark Rise had two pairs with one chick each, two pairs with two chicks each and one pair with three chicks.  

This is a total of nine chicks surviving the five-week period of development, when they are again very vulnerable to predators.  

“To get through to full grown birds requires continued good feed opportunities, and it was particularly interesting this year that the families moved away from their chosen nest sites to other parts of the farm to do the main feeding. This was probably due to the wet conditions and improved foraging on the regenerative farmed land.” 

Hatching day Lapwing nest 4 Lark Rise 2024 breeding lapwing

Vince was lucky enough to be on site as three chicks cracked their way out of their eggs. He has been busy trying to survey all the lapwings them- but they have kept him on his toes!

“They all relocated to different fields from the nest sites so it’s chaos trying to survey them,” he says. “Ideally, we want 1.7 chicks per pair to fledge in order to grow the population. Last year, we had three pairs which fledged 10 chicks, and average of 3.3 chicks per pair. This year, the total fledged chicks is nine birds from five pairs. This is still above the 1.7 per pair required to maintain the population.” 

Photo taken by volunteer Geoff Harries

Photo taken by volunteer Geoff Harries

Photo taken by volunteer Geoff Harries

Photo taken by volunteer Geoff Harries

Lapwings almost always lay four eggs, and their decline is down to breeding failure; in many cases the eggs are eaten or abandoned before they hatch, and even when they do hatch there are continued losses during the chick phase.  

Incubation takes about four weeks and from hatching to fledging another five weeks, those first nine weeks are when lapwings are at their most vulnerable. 

Once they can fly, they generally live a long life,” explains Vince. “Productivity this year is lower, but it is still good and above the minimum required to maintain the population. The two new pairs on the farm will be younger birds which are less experienced parents."

The lapwing is one of the most dramatic of the farmland birds. It has great character and beauty with its typical ‘peewit’ call and bold black and white plumage. 

Sadly, this farmland bird has suffered significant declines elsewhere and is now a Red List species This is largely due to changes in farming practices: more cereal farms, increased drainage and increased use of agrochemicals. But most damaging of all has been the early cutting of grass for silage, which destroys the lapwings’ eggs and chicks. 

Lapwings colonised Lark Rise in 2018 and their continued success shows regenerative farming practices are working to provide a suitable habitat for them.  

Vince said: “The wet weather this year has certainly helped the lapwings- even if it has made life difficult for farmers! Wet fields meant a delay in sowing crops, leading to conditions that suit the lapwing’s preference for nesting in short vegetation. Moist soil brings invertebrates – the insects, snails and worms that they need for food – close to the surface. And our regeneratively farmed soils are extremely rich in those invertebrates.

The way the land has been managed by our farmer Tim Scott at Lark Rise has really paid off. What he has achieved is both important and exciting to see.” 

So to see chicks flying around at Lark Rise is a wonderful sight and long may it continue! 

Listen to Vince talking about how the CRT has helped Lapwings thrive below:

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Published: June 2024