Search for the Lapwing across the South Downs

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RESIDENTS, visitors and farmers on the South Downs are being called upon to give their help to the RSPB in a quest to establish the status of one of the area’s most distinctive and special birds.

This month’s launch of the RSPB’s South Downs Lapwing Survey aims to use people-power to find as many pairs of the charismatic bird as possible this summer.

Still known in many country areas as the Peewit and traditionally regarded as ‘the farmers’ friend’ as they feed largely on crop pests, numbers of Lapwings have fallen dramatically in many parts of the country, with more than half of the national population having been lost between 1978 and 2003.

This year’s survey, which is a follow-up to previous RSPB lapwing surveys on the Downs in 2002 and 2007, has been organised with the support of, and funding from, the South Downs National Park Authority.

With the help of farmers and the public, over 120 pairs of these birds have been found in previous surveys between Winchester and Eastbourne.

Survey organiser, Bruce Fowkes, said, “Results showed 119 and 123 pairs in 2002 and 2007 respectively, which was impressive given a background of national declines. A further 5 years on, we are going to run the survey again this year to see how the population is doing, and if the great conservation work many farmers on the Downs are undertaking has boosted their numbers even further.

“What we can’t do is cover all 1641 square kilometres of the Downs ourselves looking for them – it would take us a lifetime! But there are so many people who live, walk, cycle and drive through the Downs that we’d like them to become eagle-eyed for us.”

A lapwing is about the size of a pigeon, has bold black and white markings, a glossy green sheen on its back, and long crest on the back of the head. When flying, they have broad rounded wings, and their territorial display flight is one of the most evocative sounds of the countryside, an excited ‘pee-wit’ as they do tumbling displays over their breeding grounds.

To submit your South Downs lapwing sightings, email or telephone the RSPB on 01273 775333.