Lapwings need farmers - that is the message from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), as the organisation launches its 2006 search for the farmer doing the most to protect the bird.
Although a relatively common sight as they tumble through the skies above the Yorkshire Dales, the number of breeding Lapwings across the UK as a whole has more than halved over the last decade.
The enigmatic Lapwing on the decline
The conservation charity is now calling on all farmers who are doing "fantastic things for lapwings" to enter its flagship 'Lapwing Champion Competition'.
Previous years have seen an exceptionally high calibre of entries and the RSPB is aiming to make this years competition even bigger by upping the rewards.
Six cash prizes are set to be given away ranging from £200 to £1000.
In the first phase of the competition six regional champions will receive a silver plaque and be guaranteed a minimum of £200 in prize money. They will then go forward to the next round with a chance of being crowned the UK Lapwing Champion and receiving the top cash prize of £1000.
Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB's Director of Conservation said: "We are delighted to be able to celebrate the fact that many farmers are getting it right for lapwings.
"We hope to see record numbers of farmers entering this year.
"Good management for lapwings often works for a wide range of other wildlife too. Much of this conservation work is eligible for grants from the Government's agri-environment schemes".
The RSPB is hoping to work with farmers, rather than dictate what they want to happen, and has identified five steps that can be taken to encourage lapwings on upland farms, such as those in the Yorkshire Dales.
Providing sparse vegetation, which is vital for nesting, and a good supply of earthworms and insects to feed themselves and their chicks, is the aim of the advice.
The five steps are:
- Identify at least one field each year that you can manage to help lapwings.
- Choose a field with short but 'bumpy' vegetation. Damp fields are best, because they are rich in food for chicks.
- Try to carry out all machinery operations by the end of March, or consider marking nests so you can avoid them.
- Try to avoid high stocking rates from April to mid-May. Grazing from late summer through autumn will create ideal nesting habitat for lapwings the following spring.
- Top rushes on a rotational basis, leaving 'islands' of 'untopped' rushes as cover for chicks.
Bill Jordan, Chairman of the competition's sponsors, Jordans Cereal's, said: "The competition's growing popularity is testament to the commitment of many farmers who are changing their farming practices to benefit lapwings.
"We hope that this award will inspire more farmers to put wildlife at the heart of their business".
To enter the 'UK Lapwing Champion' competition, log on to the RSPB website at www.rspb.org.uk/operationlapwing, or telephone Jenny Atkins on 01767 680551.
The deadline for entries is 17th March.