Bad weather reduces wading bird numbers

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Four UK wading bird species saw numbers fall to new lows last year, as poor weather compounded long-term declines in populations, a survey has revealed.

Lapwings, oystercatchers, snipe and curlew are all at their lowest numbers since the British Breeding Bird Survey of more than 100 bird species started in the early 1990s, the results for 2011 have shown.

All four species suffered sharp drops in numbers compared with spring 2010, with populations tumbling by 40 per cent for snipe and by almost a fifth for oystercatchers (19 per cent) and lapwings (18 per cent). Curlew numbers declined by 13 per cent between 2010 and 2011.

Experts believe the latest falls in numbers, recorded in spring 2011, are the result of unfavourable weather conditions in the previous year, which come on top of long-term declines in the species.

Conservationists say there is likely to have been no respite for the birds this spring, as the ground-nesting species will have been hit by the wettest April to June on record.

The wading birds, which breed on wet grassland and uplands throughout the UK and feed on earthworms and other invertebrates, have seen longer term declines due to habitat loss, land drainage and possible increase in pressure from predators.

Grahame Madge, of the RSPB, said of the weather: “Flooding at several key sites has seen hundreds of wader nests washed out, including 600 at the RSPB’s Ouse Washes reserve in Cambridgeshire.”