Carbeth Home Farm and our neighbours enjoy long stretches of the River Endrick along our boundaries. The fields adjoining the river make ideal habitats for wading birds, thanks to their damp mosaic of short grasses and patchy rushes, which provide shelter to these ground-nesting birds. We are fortunate still to have populations of oystercatcher, curlew, sandpiper and woodcock at Carbeth, but all of these species have seen sharp declines over the last few decades, with curlews suffering 61% decline in Scotland since 1994.
Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus)
Oystercatchers have been known to nest in the fields at Carbeth and have recently been seen nesting in the gravel banks along the river and on neighbouring farms.
The main threats to our waders
Eggs, chicks and adult birds are at risk of predation from foxes, badgers, crows and buzzards, among others. As tempting as it may be to plant trees, especially in this wet ground that is unsuitable for commercial grazing, waders need a distance of at least 30m from trees to reduce their risk of predation by other birds. Dogs also represent a serious threat to ground nesting birds, either by catching and harming the birds and their young, or by diverting the adults from their nests and providing an opportunity for another predator to attack the nest.
Wading birds enjoy a mosaic of different heights of grasses to provide shelter (in the rushes and long grasses) and their food source of insects (in the shorter, grazed grasses). Without any active management, these fields would soon revert to a very high level of coverage by rushes, while the ideal balance for wading birds is below 30%.
What can we do that may help?
In 2000 Carbeth Home Farm joined the Countryside Premium Scheme. The scheme involved the management of rushes for waders & the brown hare amongst others. The scheme ended in 2005 and we immediately commenced the Rural Stewardship Scheme for the next 5 years. Both schemes involved hedge and tree planting over the whole farm but the Drumquarn field which was the most challenging to farm due to its Grade 4 Clay Loam soil and abundance of soft rush, delivered for the waders.
Given that neither heavy planting of trees, nor stepping back entirely, are likely to be of great assistance to our wading birds, what else could we do that may help these precarious populations to thrive?
Very low intensity grazing by hardy native breed cattle could potentially provide multiple benefits to the birds:
- Their grazing and trampling can help to maintain the varied grass landscape and gently control the rushes
- So long as the animals are not treated against parasites, their dung should increase the abundance of insects – the birds’ food source
It may be necessary to control predator numbers, and to cut the rushes at strategic times so as to weaken the plants, without threatening the birds while they are nesting. It is also important, particularly as we encourage more people to enjoy the wild areas around the estate, to deploy clear signage asking that dogs be kept on leads during the nesting season of April to June.