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How Welsh cattle are helping bring lapwings and redshanks back to the Broads

PUBLISHED: 15:45 22 August 2019 | UPDATED: 16:16 22 August 2019

An adult lapwing on grassland with a young chick. Picture: Amy Millard / rspb-images.com

An adult lapwing on grassland with a young chick. Picture: Amy Millard / rspb-images.com

Amy Millard / rspb-images.com

A remarkable resurgence of wading birds at a Broads marshland has been credited to the hardy cattle grazing there - and the enthusiasm of conservation managers.

Welsh Black cattle on the marshes at Herringfleet, where their grazing has helped spark a resurgence in the numbers of breeding lapwings. Picture by farm manager Rob RavenWelsh Black cattle on the marshes at Herringfleet, where their grazing has helped spark a resurgence in the numbers of breeding lapwings. Picture by farm manager Rob Raven

Herringfleet Marshes is 50 hectares of grazing land in the Waveney river valley owned by the Somerleyton Estate, which aims to manage it in a way which could reverse the declines of wildlife like lapwings and redshanks.

The birds need a short grass sward for nesting - traditionally maintained by grazing livestock - and high water levels to ensure an invertebrate-rich habitat where they can feed their chicks.

But much of this ideal habitat in the Broads has either been drained or converted to arable production.

So at Herringfleet, the marshes are grazed by Welsh Black cattle to manage the grass and, in autumn 2018, water levels were raised and historic "footdrains" - installed to by marshmen between the wars to drain the lowest lying areas - have been excavated to bring in water from the surrounding drainage dykes.

As a result, there has been a significant rise in bird life, including an estimated 13 pairs of lapwing breeding on the site between April and June this year, a 50pc increase from 2014, and 14 pairs of redshank, up 250pc from 2014. There were also large flocks of wintering waders and wildfowl.

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Reg Land, a birdwatcher and RSPB survey volunteer who collected the data, said: "To see the abundance and variety of bird life returning to these marshes over the past winter and spring has been uplifting.

"So too has been the enthusiasm of all those managing the marshes and their desire to make a success of the work. Take a good idea, stir in some enthusiastic people, then add water - and the birds will return."

As well as helping wildlife, the estate says increased water levels on the Herringfleet Marshes will bring added benefits for flood mitigation and water quality, and the grazing is good enough to produce quality beef for the estate' pubs - The Dukes Head and The Fritton Arms.

The landowners are now planning a similar project at the adjoining Somerleyton Marshes, with the support of the RSPB and Suffolk Wildlife Trust.

Lord Somerleyton said he believes a collaborative approach between landowners and conservation organisations can help create and connect wild areas on a landscape scale.

"A lot of this marshland is arable or excessively drained and grazed," he said. "But if much of the area is managed more benignly, bringing in sensitive grazing on a wetter landscape, it could transform the area.

"The estate is absolutely clear that it is running an outdoor, extensive - but nonetheless viable - livestock business, and it is perfectly possible to do farming and conservation together."

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