Scotland’s gamekeepers will this week commence their biggest ever conservation project aimed at halting the decline of the nation’s vulnerable wading birds.
This year is the Scottish Gamekeepers Association’s Year of the Wader and gamekeepers on all grouse moors are getting ready to step up for nature.
Curlew, Lapwing and Golden Plover are frequent summer visitors to heather moorland breeding grounds managed by gamekeepers.
Officials at the SGA are now asking all grouse keepers to note the numbers of the endangered birds as they go about their daily work.
They hope that the data will provide answers as to how conservation work to preserve the birds could be targeted effectively across Scotland.
“Gamekeepers, through their management, have provided the conditions to conserve waders for countless years, at no cost other than their own efforts and care as they go about their daily work.
“However, even on grouse moors, there is a concern at the declines and that is why we are doing this now,” said SGA Chairman Alex Hogg.
“What we are asking grouse keepers to do is to help us build a detailed map of breeding waders on their ground and create a baseline for future years.
“The birds are coming back now from their wintering grounds so we want people to record the presence of breeding pairs as accurately as they can.
“For those that are really keen or have the time, we would also like to record abundance with surveys just before eggs are hatched around May and again in late June/July when the numbers of fledged chicks can be noted.”
The call and trill of the Curlew and ‘peewit’ sound of the Lapwing are familiar on Scottish moors and gamekeepers are keen that this continues into the coming years.
They have sought guidance from GWCT on how best to gather the data and will be publishing information to encourage as much engagement as possible.
“Gamekeepers might be active in managing in a way that helps produce wildlife but, due to lack of time or working remotely, are not always the best at recording it.
“Whilst the principal aim here is to help wading birds, we also hope an off-shoot of this project is that it encourages gamekeepers to get into the habit of noting the wildlife on their ground so we can establish an accurate picture of biodiversity on managed moorland,” added SGA Chairman Alex Hogg.
Acclaimed wildlife photographer Peter Cairns believes it is important for wildlife managers to participate in frontline conservation.
He said: “It’s exciting to see SGA encouraging its members to get involved in wader conservation. The amount of ground covered by keepers across Scotland makes them ideally placed to monitor breeding success and to that end, keepers represent a valuable, if largely untapped, conservation resource.”
Minister for the Environment and Climate Change Paul Wheelhouse said: “I welcome the Scottish Gamekeepers Association’s Year of the Wader conservation project, which will see grouse keepers helping to monitoring the population of waders in Scotland.
“I hope this and other similar work being done to conserve wading birds can inform us of the conservation work required to halt the decline of these important species which can be affected by predation of eggs, for example by foxes or crows, or arising from impacts on habitats either through climate change or the influences of changes in land use”.
If you are a gamekeeper and want to contribute to the project, you can follow these instructions:
1- Locate a decent sized Ordnance Survey map of your ground area. Squares should represent 1km square. These pink land ranger maps can be purchased at most walking/tourist information outlets.
2- The waders in this study are Curlew, Lapwing and Golden Plover. When waders arrive on you ground, if you see a breeding PAIR in one of the 1km square boxes, mark either C for Curlew, L for Lapwing or P for Golden Plover in that box.
3- If there is one pair of Curlew or 8 pairs in that box, only mark ‘C’ once. The key thing is to mark PRESENCE.
4- Once you have recorded, and the waders are preparing to move on, send the information to firstname.lastname@example.org marked “SGA Year of the Wader COUNTS’. Detail also how many gamekeepers work on your ground area and the name and size of your estate. (Estate names will be kept confidential).