Nadja Hofmann, Tina Hönisch & Dr. Johannes Melter

A long term case study (1999-2018) on farmland in Lower Saxony, Germany

Before Lapwing clutches were protected a high proportion were destroyed by agricultural operations such as ploughing or mowing.

Between 1999 and 2001, Lapwing nests were monitored to establish the percentage of nests that hatched or failed for different reasons. In 2002, clutch protection began and aimed to primarily protect clutches (but also chicks) from farming operations. In the first four years the study site was about 110 ha (approximately 50% meadow and arable farmland), but in 2006, it was expanded to 1,150 ha, where more than 80% is arable farmland. The study site is intensively used for agriculture and not protected by other measures, except up to  ~20 ha of grassland which is managed for meadow birds.

Fig. 1: The nests were marked with two small sticks (about 3-4 m from the clutch), so that the farmers can either avoid the nest as depicted in the photo (preferred method) or the nest can be moved a maximum of 1 m, to the next track.

In addition to the protection of the nests (Fig. 1) other precautionary measures are applied by famers who want to do more. For example, dragging and rolling of meadows is forbidden after 15th March. The speed and size of mowing machines on meadows is restricted to 8 km/h and a spread of 3 m. Mowing has to begin in the centre of fields working towards the edge. Moreover, farmers have to drive away birds on the field in the evening before. Farmers receive an initial payment for their participation as well as expense allowances depending on the measures undertaken on their land.

In our study, we located lapwing nests by observing them by car from a distance. Identified nests were marked with two small sticks (Fig. 1) and observed every 5-6 days.  On farmers’ requests, some nests were relocated by a maximum of one metre. When a clutch failed or chicks hatched (indicated by lack of incubating bird), we visited the nest again to examine the evidence for nest fate. In general, small pieces of eggshells can be found if chicks hatched, whereas larger pieces or an empty nest indicate a predated clutch.

The farmers receive a bonus if clutches were not destroyed by agricultural operations.

Fig. 2: Fates of the nests from 1999 to 2018.

As Fig. 2 indicates, losses to agriculture were higher before clutch protection began in 2002. In the initial years (2002-2007), protection measures reduced the losses by farming to an average of 9% of all identified nests. The communication with farmers in the project area improved over time so that from 2008 onwards, clutch loss could be further reduced to an average of 3% nest loss by farming. Since 2017 we have been using coloured sticks as a new method to mark the clutches. As they are more obvious against the soil, we could decrease the loss by farming to almost 0%.

Predation is variable and the main cause of clutch loss in some years (2013-2015, fig. 2). Evidence from cameras identified the fox as main predator. Other predators included polecats, stone martens, weasels and birds of prey. Local hunters are involved in the project and undertake control of small game.

Our experiences tell us that close contact between the researchers undertaking the monitoring and the farmers is crucial for project success. Farmers exhibit a growing interest in “their” birds and we have around 50 farmers involved in the project.

Clutch protection is often the only measure that can provide Lapwings with basic protection from farming operations on arable land and from intensively farmed meadows. Additional measures to ensure survival of chicks from hatching to fledging may also be necessary to establish sustainable Lapwing populations. 


We would like to thank all our farmers and volunteers and the Hegering Neuenkirchen for their support and hard work.

From 2006 – 2008 the DBU (Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt) financed the project.

Now the nature conservation foundation from the administrative district Osnabrück (Naturschutzstiftung des Landkreises Osnabrück), the NLWKN, the state Lower Saxony and the EU is funding this project. 


Melter, J. , B. Abing & B. Hönisch (2009): Gelegeschutz in Niedersachsen. Der Falke 56: 144-148.

published: 02/2020


Nadja Hofmann, Tina Hönisch & Dr. Johannes Melter
BIO-CONSULT OS, Dulings Breite 6-10, 49191 Belm, Germany