Managing uplands for biodiversity: do agri-environment schemes deliver benefits for breeding lapwing Vanellus vanellus?
Within Europe, agri-environment schemes are the key delivery mechanism for biodiversity conservation outside protected areas. Schemes have a range of land management options designed to deliver outcomes for target habitats or species. Breeding waders form an important part of the biodiversity of upland grasslands, and in the UK, there are multiple land management options within agri-environment schemes designed to benefit waders. We assessed whether such options improve the suitability of breeding habitat and population dynamics for a declining wader, the lapwing Vanellus vanellus. The suitability of nesting and chick-rearing habitat was better on land with agri-environment scheme management, and breeding densities and productivity increased with habitat suitability. The lapwing populations declined during this study, and trends did not differ between agri-environment and non-agri-environment scheme land. Productivity was below that required for population stability, although there was evidence of higher productivity on agri-environment scheme land in later years. Agri-environment management consisted of multiple land management options that varied in delivery of suitable habitat, breeding densities and success. The best management options were all in England on land benefiting from specific management advice or with rough grazing and grazed pasture agri-environment scheme options. Synthesis and applications. Despite considerable investment and positive effects of agri-environment schemes on habitat quality, populations of lapwing in the UK uplands have declined because of inadequate productivity. For species with complex requirements, populations are only likely to increase when all of these requirements are provided. Appropriately targeted habitat management, delivered through agri-environment schemes, can play an important role in improving habitat quality and increasing landscape diversity. However, when populations are limited by something other than habitat quality, for example, predation, then habitat management alone is unlikely to recover populations. Increasing evidence suggests that predation impacts are also likely to be important for ground-nesting species such as lapwing. Predator management may therefore need to be integrated with habitat measures where predation is limiting breeding success and population recovery.