For the first time in nearly twenty years, a lapwing nest has been discovered at Westfield, which is part of Lark Rise Farm owned by the Countryside Restoration Trust (CRT).

Although lapwings have started to colonise other areas of the farm in recent years, this is the first time that they have ventured into the westerly part of the farm which is in Comberton, Cambridgeshire. These farmland birds are on the Red List of Conservation Concern and a rare and exciting discovery.

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, with iridescent dark green back and wings. However, once widespread across the country, the lapwing population has declined alarmingly in recent years. Huge winter flocks are now a thing of the past.

This is largely due to changes in farming practices: more monocultures and fewer mixed farms, increased drainage and increased use of agrochemicals. Early cutting of grass for silage also destroys lapwings’ eggs and chicks compared to traditional later hay cuts.

Lapwings nest in short vegetation, rich in invertebrates – the insects, snails and worms that it needs for food. The short vegetation also provides brilliant camouflage for the stone-like eggs, while giving the adults a clear view of approaching danger. Although the birds had been seen for several weeks, the nest was well hidden and took two wildlife monitors, several volunteers and a telescope to actually find it!

The nest site was in a slight dip in the very middle of a large field of spring-sown barley; without getting too close to disturb the birds, Vince Lea and Ruth Moss, part of CRT’s wildlife monitoring team, watched from afar using telescopes. The male bird was easy to spot as he moved around the field, chasing off any crow coming near the area, but the female on the nest took a careful scan of the field; just the top of her head was visible. A careful line was visualised using distant landmarks, and the nest approached to get the crucial evidence and make a note of the number of eggs. The progress of the nest will be monitored over the next few weeks.

The joy of finding this nest was tempered by the threat posed to this site. Lapwings are long-lived birds and if this new beginning is to be successful, we would hope they will keep returning to breed for years to come. Unfortunately, the whole site is threatened by the proposed route of the new East-West Railway. If these plans go ahead the birds will be unable to return to the farm in the future.

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