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Providing evidence to improve practice

Action: Restore or create traditional water meadows Bird Conservation

Key messages

Read our guidance on Key messages before continuing

  • Four out of five before-and-after studies, all from the UK, found that the number of waders and wildfowl on sites increased following the restoration of water meadows. One before-and-after study from Sweden found no increase in northern lapwing population following an increase in the area of managed meadows in the study area. This study also found that restored meadows were used less than expected by breeding lapwings.
  • A before-and-after study from Sweden found that hatching success of northern lapwings were higher on meadows than on spring-sown crops. There were no differences between meadows and autumn-sown crops or grasslands.


Supporting evidence from individual studies


A before-and-after study in 1984-1994 in Västmanland, Sweden (Berg et al. 2002), found that there was no increase in northern lapwing Vanellus vanellus population in the study area despite an increase in the area of managed flood meadows from 163 ha to 530 ha over the study period (approximately 220 pairs in 1985 vs. 200 in 1994; range of 152-297 pairs). Both managed and unmanaged meadows were used less for nesting than expected based on their availability. However, average hatching success was significantly higher in meadows (78-90% for 54 nests in meadows), compared to spring-sown crops (29-50% of 1,236 nests). There were no differences between meadows and autumn sown crops or cultivated grassland (approximately 85% and 75% success respectively). Before 1984, the majority of meadows in the area were overgrown and abandoned.



A before-and-after study of grazing marshes in east England (Smart & Coutts 2004) found an increase in breeding wader numbers following a number of interventions. Northern lapwing numbers increased from 19 pairs in 1993 to 85 pairs in 2003 and common redshank Tringa totanus rose from four to 63 pairs.  Numbers of winter wildfowl also increased over the period and changes in vegetation communities to those more tolerant of inundation occurred. In 1993, water levels were raised by 45 cm.  Management included opening up existing footdrains; creating new ones; reconnecting drains to ditches; reducing grazing intensity (from 1.5-2 cattle/ha to 0.7) and stopping fertiliser inputs. From 1995, approximately 600 m of footdrains were opened/year; from 2000 onwards, approximately 2,000 m of footdrains were opened or added.



A study on 84 ha of former arable land adjoining Berney Marshes RSPB Reserve, Norfolk, England (Lyons & Ausden 2005), found that breeding wader numbers increased after the land was restored to grazing marsh: 15-20 pairs of northern lapwing and 5-10 pairs of common redshank were found on the marsh, depending on year. The fields were regularly used for foraging by a large proportion of the estimated 100,000 wintering waterfowl (e.g. Eurasian wigeon Anas penelope) using the reserve. The fields were acquired in 1998, water levels were raised, foot drains were added, and grazing by sheep (and then cattle) was introduced. By 2003, plant communities had shifted towards those characteristic of lowland wet grassland.



A before-and-after study on a wetland reserve in Cumbria, England (Holton & Allcorn 2006), found that the number of common snipe Gallinago gallinago nesting in an area of improved peat grassland increased from one pair in 2003 to 11 pairs in both 2004 and 2005 following several interventions including maintaining higher water levels, the initiation of a more intensive grazing regime, the cutting of rush Juncus spp. the creation of scrapes for feeding birds.



A before-and-after study on 160 ha of improved grassland at Ynys-hir RSPB reserve, Powys, Wales (Squires & Allcorn 2006), found that, after a series of management interventions, the population of northern lapwings increased from 10 to 81 pairs and redshank increased from 11 to 29 pairs between 2000 and 2005. Management included chisel ploughing, used on a 2-year rotation (approximately 8 ha in February 2002 and 10 ha areas thereafter) to break up the surface to create small hummocks and divots (see ‘Create scrapes and pools in wetlands and wet grasslands’). The water level was also increased and a seasonal sheep and cattle grazing regime introduced. 


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.