Breeding Waders in the Yorkshire Dales National Park
The meadows, moorland and moorland fringe habitats within the Yorkshire Dales National Park are home to nationally important numbers of breeding wader species. A number of these species are undergoing significant population declines in both the UK and elsewhere in Europe. The Curlew is one of these species under threat and is now listed as globally near-threatened. As the UK holds nearly 30% of the European breeding population, upland areas such as the Yorkshire Dales are becoming increasingly important for this enigmatic species.
The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority is working with a number of key stakeholders to develop initiatives that will help to protect breeding waders in the National Park and elsewhere in the Northern Upland Chain Local Nature Partnership area. We have been working on projects with local gamekeepers, farmers and the British Trust for Ornithology. Read more about our joint breeding waders work here.
The UK is globally important for breeding Curlew as it supports around 25% of the total breeding population. In some parts of the range, there have been such significant population declines that the species has disappeared from many areas. Thankfully, large areas of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and other parts of the North Pennines are crucial refuges for this species, and still support nationally important numbers of breeding pairs. The risks from changes in land use policy that reduce the amount of suitable breeding habitat, and an associated increase in predation still threaten these important upland breeding populations. It is therefore essential that there is an appropriate conservation framework and sufficient funding to ensure that the habitat on and adjacent to moorlands is appropriately managed.
The name is derived from the distinctive ‘curl-oo’ call that can often be heard on both the wintering and breeding grounds. It is only when they return to the breeding areas that the characteristic bubbling call can be heard as the birds perform their territorial displays. The curlew is the largest wading bird found in Europe. It is a distinctive species readily identified by its large size and long, down curved bill that is used to probe soft ground for worms and other invertebrates. The female curlew normally has a longer bill than the male, but some caution is required to separate them based on this feature, as there is often some degree of overlap.
Large flocks of several hundred birds gather in some of the low-lying areas in and around the National Park from mid-February onwards as birds prepare to return to nesting areas. After the breeding season, birds will move onto estuaries to spend the winter with a few ringing recoveries tentatively suggesting that birds bred in the Dales may well winter in southern Ireland.
Further information can be found on the Northern Upland Chain Local Nature Partnership website – Curlew conservation
European Golden Plover
The Golden Plover is a bird of the high fells where it breeds in areas of short vegetation on heather moorland and blanket bog. The adult birds will feed in meadows and pastures on the moorland fringe and will fly up to 5 km away to utilise these key habitats.
During the spring and summer the mournful territorial call of the breeding birds can often be the first indication that Golden Plovers are around. Once heard they can be difficult to detect, as their golden-brown spangled upperparts and black underparts blend in very well with the moorland vegetation. Once the breeding season is over, many will leave to spend the winter on lowland farmland or coastal wetlands, although a few hardy birds can often still be found on high ground during the winter months.
Between 1200 and 1400 breeding pairs were located during survey work on moorland areas of the Yorkshire Dales National Park in the early 1990s. This is one of the reasons that many of the heather moorland sites in the national park are designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and Special Protection areas (SPAs).
Further information can be found on the RSPB website – Golden plover
Upland areas such as the Dales are nationally important for many breeding waders such as the Lapwing. Survey work has shown that nationally important numbers of breeding lapwing are found in the Yorkshire Dales with up to 2,900 pairs found on moorland areas during the early 1990s and up to 1500 pairs found on enclosed grassland in 2000.
The sight of the male Lapwings undertaking their spectacular tumbling display flights is often thought of as one of the first signs of spring in the Dales. During these displays, the wheezing and far carrying ‘peewit’ call gives rise to one of the local names for this species. They will nest in a wide range of wet or damp habitats where there is short vegetation from the dale bottoms right up to the fell tops. After good breeding seasons, large flocks of adult and young birds will congregate on the low lying land. Many will remain in the uplands until the first frosts of winter force the birds to move to lowland arable areas.
Further information can be found on the RSPB website – Lapwing
The Redshank is predominantly a summer visitor to the Dales, nesting is areas of wet marshy grassland where there is a varied sward height. There have been population declines in many areas of the country primarily as a result of habitat loss and land drainage. As such, many upland areas of the country such as the Yorkshire Dales now support nationally important breeding populations.
Survey work undertaken in the early 1990s as a part of the Moorland Bird Survey located over 220 pairs, with a subsequent survey of lowland enclosed grasslands in 2000 suggesting that there may be up 300 pairs present. The enclosed and moorland areas of the National Park are therefore clearly of national importance for breeding waders such Redshank.
Further information can be found on the RSPB website – Redshank
The cryptic brown plumage of the Snipe can make it a difficult bird to see in the favoured thick grassland and moorland habitats. During the breeding season they often become somewhat easier to see as territorial birds will often perch up on fence posts or wall tops. With luck, it may also be possible to see the spectacular display flight as the birds fly over potentially suitable breeding areas although it is often the bizarre whirring ‘drumming’ sound that first indicates that snipe are present. This is not actually a song; it is caused by air passing over specially shaped outer tail feathers that are spread out as the birds begin their display flights.
Snipe will nest in a variety of habitats from the fell tops right down to the valley bottoms where there are suitable areas of wet ground and thick vegetation. Survey work carried out as part of the Moorland Bird Survey of the National Park in the early 1990s located approximately 900 pairs whilst a survey of enclosed grassland below the moorland boundary in 2000 estimated that between 245 and 745 pairs were present. The number of breeding pairs of snipe in the Yorkshire Dales is clearly of national importance.
Further information can be found on the RSPB website – Snipe