A FORDINGBRIDGE charity has secured £1m to help save the lapwing in the Avon Valley.

The EU Life+-funded project will help farmers between Salisbury and Christchurch reverse the fortunes of the iconic and much revered bird, which has suffered a colossal decline over the past 20 years.

The species is red-listed as a bird of conservation concern in the UK and conservationists believe that as well as habitat loss, predation of nests by foxes and crows is a major factor limiting lapwing recovery.

The project, which involves 35 farmers, is being managed by the Fordingbridge-based Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), in partnership with the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust and Planning for Real.

The Avon Valley has historically supported nationally important populations of breeding waders, including lapwing, redshank, and common snipe.

In the 1980s, the valley was one of the top eight lowland wet grassland sites for breeding waders in the UK.

However, despite habitat improvements aimed at waders, populations of lapwing have fallen from 260 breeding pairs in the 1980s to about 90 last year.

The four-year Waders for Real project hopes to increase the breeding success of lapwings and redshank outside of nature reserves. Habitat improvements will be carried out as well as measures to reduce attacks from predators.

Dr Andrew Hoodless, head of wetland research at the trust, said: “Despite the farmers in the valley carrying out a variety of habitat restoration measures over the last 20 years, there has been no reversal of the declines in lapwing, redshank and snipe.”

Monitoring of lapwing nests using temperature loggers indicates that in the Avon Valley 61 per cent of nesting attempts fail and that 82 per cent of nest failure is caused by predators, particularly by foxes at night and crows and gulls during the day.

Four ‘hot spot’ areas will initially be created for re-colonization and measures such as nest cages to protect eggs from foxes and crows will be used.

Dr Hoodless said: “There is no doubt that lapwings and other waders are in serious trouble. We have mostly identified the causes, but we need to work more closely with farmers to come up with practical and effective solutions for farmland outside of nature reserves.

“Guidance that can be tailored to individual circumstances as well as the commitment of farmers to reversing declines, will be crucial to securing the future of these wonderful birds.”