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'It is not rocket science' - How breeding waders were tempted back to Holkham marshes

PUBLISHED: 16:32 30 May 2019 | UPDATED: 16:44 30 May 2019

Lapwing eggs on the Holkham estate. Picture: Jake Fiennes

Lapwing eggs on the Holkham estate. Picture: Jake Fiennes

Jake Fiennes

After decades of decline, breeding lapwings and redshanks have been tempted back to coastal marshes in north Norfolk as a result of some "really simple" land management changes.

Water management and razing changes have brought lapwings and redshanks back to marshes on the Holkham estate. Picture: Jake FiennesWater management and razing changes have brought lapwings and redshanks back to marshes on the Holkham estate. Picture: Jake Fiennes

The wading birds' populations have plummeted across lowland England since the 1980s, but this year the Holkham Estate has seen its first increase in breeding numbers for 14 years.

And on a specific stretch of marshland, lapwings are nesting and rearing chicks for the first time in decades after the introduction of a new grazing regime and the installation of bunds and pipes to control water levels in the creeks - preserving the muddy waterside areas where these species feed.

Jake Fiennes, who took over the conservation management of the 25,000-acre estate in August, said the site became a focal point for nature after the £2m visitor centre The Lookout was opened near the entrance to the beach last summer.

"I believe that to engage people with nature you need to bring nature to them," he said. "With the Lookout installation, for me it was really important that the grazing marshes it looks over had something worth looking at.

An adult lapwing. Picture: Chris Gomersall / RSPB IMagesAn adult lapwing. Picture: Chris Gomersall / RSPB IMages

"I soon discovered that, because it is an old saltmarsh creek system, when the water level drops the habitat for breeding waders disappeared.

"So we put in some really simple water penning features. You put a soil bund in the creek system that adjoins the dyke, and you put in a 12-inch pipe with a U-bend so when it faces down the water comes in, but when it is turned upwards you stop the water flowing back out again. It is not rocket science.

"We flooded the field and waited to see what happened. And we brought the cattle in earlier because the management of the swards was very important to productivity.

"Now there are four pairs of lapwings, three with chicks of varying ages, and one still on the nest. And we have three confirmed pairs of redshank with young. In previous years there was nothing there at all. Andy Bloomfield, one of the rangers on the nature reserve who has been at Holkham most of his life, said he cannot remember seeing lapwing breeding on these two marshes."

Jake Fiennes, general manager for conservation at the Holkham Estate. Picture: Carl EllisJake Fiennes, general manager for conservation at the Holkham Estate. Picture: Carl Ellis

Mr Fiennes said the success of the project proved the need for conservation policies and stewardship schemes to be flexible enough to allow farmers and land managers to tailor their work for the particular challenges of their land.

"My frustration is that everything in farming is so prescriptive these days, and I think it is really important that people on the ground challenge those prescriptions, whether it is for the crop, the livestock, or nature conservation," he said.

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