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Providing evidence to improve practice

Action: Leave uncropped, cultivated margins or plots, including lapwing and stone curlew plots Bird Conservation

Key messages

Read our guidance on Key messages before continuing

  • Two studies and two reviews examined population-level effects of uncropped margins or plots. A before-and-after study from the UK and two reviews found an increase in Eurasian thick-knee Burhinus oedicnemus numbers following a scheme that promoted plots (amongst other interventions); a replicated study from the UK found no effect of plots on grey partridge density changes.
  • Four studies (three replicated) and a review from the UK found that at least one species was associated with lapwing plots or used them for foraging or nesting. One replicated study from the UK found that 11 species were not associated with plots; another found that fewer birds used the plots than cropland in two out of three UK regions.
  • Two of the three studies that examined productivity (one replicated) found that nesting success of birds was higher in fallow fields or lapwing plots than in crops. A replicated study from the UK found that grey partridge Perdix perdix productivity was not related to the amount of lapwing plots on a site and that the proportion of young partridges in the population was lower on sites with lots of cultivated fallow plots.


Supporting evidence from individual studies


A 2000 literature review (Aebischer et al. 2000) found that the UK population of Eurasian thick-knees Burhinus oedicnemus increased from 150 pairs in 1991 to 233 in 1999, following an agri-environment scheme designed to provide uncultivated plots in fields and set-aside.



A replicated study in 1999 and 2003 on 256 arable and pastoral fields across 84 farms in East Anglia and the West Midlands, England (Stevens & Bradbury 2006), found that only reed buntings Emberiza schoeniclus (out of 12 farmland birds analysed) were strongly and positively associated with uncropped, cultivated strips. No other species showed a strong association (positive or negative) with the strips. This study describes several other interventions, discussed in the relevant sections.



A before-and-after study of a Countryside Stewardship Scheme in southern England (Evans & Green 2007) found that the population of stone curlews (Eurasian thick-knees) Burhinus oedicnemus increased from 71 breeding pairs in 2000 to 103 in 2005, following the creation of 156 stone curlew plots over the study period. A further 51 were created in 2006 and the UK population of stone curlews increased from 160 pairs in the 1980s to 300 pairs in 2005. Stone curlew plots consisted of 1-2 ha of arable or set-aside land cultivated to create a ‘rough fallow’ in spring. Preferably they should be located close (<1 km) to pasture, pig farms or other food sources and away from edges of fields.



A replicated, controlled study in the breeding seasons of 1999-2000 on 28 farms in western England (Sheldon et al. 2007) found that 85% of 34 northern lapwing Vanellus vanellus nests successfully hatched at least one chick on fields with cultivated ‘lapwing plots’, compared to 64% of 154 nests on all other fields types. Nest survival estimates were also significantly higher (99% daily survival vs. 96-96%), and no nests were lost to agricultural operations, compared to over 50% in other fields.



A study in 2003-5 in Cambridgeshire, UK (Stoate & Moorcroft 2007), found that the nesting success of Eurasian skylarks Alauda arvensis was significantly higher in a field that was fallowed after harvest, compared to in cereal crop fields (84% success in the fallow field vs. 35%), whilst the number of nests in the field increased from two to eight following the fallow. Overwinter counts of yellowhammers Emberiza citrinella, reed buntings E. schoeniclus, linnets Carduelis cannabina and skylarks on the fallow field were also far higher than in previous years. This study is also discussed in ‘Create skylark plots’, ‘Plant grass buffer strips/margins around arable or pasture fields’ and ‘Create beetle banks’.



A replicated study in 2007 (Chamberlain et al. 2009) found that northern lapwings Vanellus vanellus used 39% of 212 lapwing plots on 180 farms across England, with breeding suspected on 25% of plots. In addition, Eurasian skylark Alauda arvensis, grey partridge Perdix perdix and yellow wagtail Motacilla flava were recorded breeding in 73%, 17% and 6% of plots respectively. There were no significant differences in lapwing occurrence or breeding in plots managed under Higher Level Stewardship compared with those under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme. Lapwing occurrence decreased if there was woodland adjacent, and the probability of breeding increased with the proportion of bare ground present on plots. Skylarks were less likely to be found on plots near hedgerows.



A 2009 literature review of agri-environment schemes in England (Natural England 2009) found that spring and summer fallows provided nesting habitats for northern lapwings Vanellus vanellus, with 40% of fallow plots used by lapwings and breeding suspected on 25%. In addition, the number of breeding pairs of Eurasian thick-knees (stone curlews) Burhinus oedicnemus in southern England increased from 63 in 1997 to 103 in 2005 following the implementation of a Country Stewardship Scheme ‘special project’, which included the provision of fallow plots. This review also examines several other interventions, discussed in the relevant sections.



A replicated site comparison study on 1,031 agricultural sites across England in 2004-8 (Ewald et al. 2010) found a lower proportion of young grey partridges Perdix perdix in the population in 2007 on sites with a large area of uncropped but cultivated margins and plots. There were no significant relationships with changes in partridge density, brood size or overwinter survival. This study describes the effects of several other interventions, discussed in the relevant sections.



A replicated site comparison study on farms in three English regions (Field et al. 2010) found that in two of the three regions Higher Level Stewardship fallow plots for ground-nesting birds had significantly fewer seed-eating farmland songbirds than conventional crop fields during summer. On farms in East Anglia and the Cotswolds, there were approximately 2.5 birds/ha on crops compared to 1 bird/ha on fallow plots. However, in a third region, the West Midlands, more seed-eating farmland birds were recorded on fallow plots than in crop fields (1.5 birds/ha on fallow plots compared to <0.5 birds/ha on crops). The group of birds analysed included tree sparrow Passer montanus and corn bunting Emberiza calandra, but not grey partridge Perdix perdix. Surveys were carried out in the summers of 2008 and 2009, on 69 farms with Higher Level Stewardship in East Anglia, the West Midlands or the Cotswolds and on 31 farms across all three regions with no environmental stewardship.


Referenced papers

Please cite as:

Williams, D.R., Child, M.F., Dicks, L.V., Ockendon, N., Pople, R.G., Showler, D.A., Walsh, J.C., zu Ermgassen, E.K.H.J. & Sutherland, W.J. (2019) Bird Conservation. Pages 141-290 in: W.J. Sutherland, L.V. Dicks, N. Ockendon, S.O. Petrovan & R.K. Smith (eds) What Works in Conservation 2019. Open Book Publishers, Cambridge, UK.