WILDLIFE lovers are celebrating the success of a project to restore lapwing to the Avon Valley.

The LIFE Waders for Real scheme, set up by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), has managed to reverse the downward trend of lapwing and other waders in the area.

The project succeeded in increasing the number of lapwing in the Avon Valley from 61 pairs in 2015 to 105 last year.

Bird lovers are also celebrating a sharp rise in the redshank population, which has increased from 19 pairs in 2015 to 35 in 2019.

Project leader Lizzie Grayshon praised the contribution made by farmers and gamekeepers.

She said: "We opened their eyes to some of the issues and provided guidance on possible mitigations. The extra work these working conservationists put in to help the lapwing on their land has been truly inspiring.”

Lapwing numbers have plummeted by 80% since the 1960s.

The Fordingbridge-based GWCT began monitoring lapwing, redshank and snipe in the Avon Valley in 1996. By 2013 it was so concerned by the drop in breeding pairs of lapwing that it called a meeting of local land managers.

Research showed that the decline was due to poor breeding success, with predators raiding nests being the main cause.

The GWCT secured funding for the LIFE Waders for Real project and in 2015 a team of ecologists began working with farmers, gamekeepers and river-keepers to improve habitat and protect birds that still bred in the valley.

Farmers such as Will and Judy Mitchell now only graze experienced stock on the water meadows, reducing the risks of nests being trampled.

Addressing the problem of predators was crucial to the project’s success.

Solutions included installing electric fencing around nests, controlling the number of foxes, crows and American mink, and removing "lookout" trees used by crows and birds of prey.

Rupert Brewer, head gamekeeper on the Bisterne Estate, worked with the GWCT scientists.

He said: "When we started I remember seeing a pair of lapwings and 25 crows on the water meadows. Three years later I saw about 25 lapwings and one crow."