Restoration of wet features for breeding waders on lowland grassland.
Over the last century, the loss of around half of the world's wetlands, principally through drainage and conversion to agriculture, has been one of the main drivers of declines in breeding waders. Across Europe, nature reserves have been effective conservation islands for breeding waders, but management of the wider countryside is needed for more wide-scale population recovery. This is likely to require the restoration of wet features, but in a manner which is compatible with farming operations. Here we explore the extent to which three types of wet feature influence the distribution of breeding lapwings Vanellus vanellus and their chicks on grassland. Footdrains are shallow channels used historically for drainage, but which can also be created and managed for water retention and cause little disruption to farming activities. Footdrain floods are areas where water overtops footdrains. Isolated pools are unmanaged areas of surface water resulting from rainfall or high water tables. We selected 70 fields on nine sites which spanned the range of wet feature type and cover in early April. By May, only around 10% of the water within isolated pools remained, whereas 30-40% water was maintained in footdrains into June. Fields with high footdrain flood densities attracted significantly higher densities of nesting lapwing and nests were more likely to be within 50 m of footdrain floods. Later in the season, footdrains were the primary remaining water source, and chick field use increased significantly with footdrain density. Chicks were also more likely to forage nearer footdrain floods in areas of wet mud created by receding water levels. Synthesis and applications. Areas of shallow, small-scale flooding are of critical importance for breeding waders. Management tools such as footdrains, coupled with appropriate hydrological management, provide a means of retaining water throughout the breeding season. Installation of these features is relatively simple, but maintaining sufficient water levels within the system is critical, especially in the face of increasingly unpredictable water supplies associated with climate change. Such management tools offer a solution that may be both effective at improving breeding wader populations and practicable for commercial grazing marsh management.