Rare birds could benefit from New Forest wetland restoration

Rare wading birds are in decline across the New Forest due to modern day pressures and the loss of their habitat.

So a scheme to restore wetlands in the New Forest is aiming to help halt the decline of these threatened species.

Birds like lapwing, curlew and redshank head to the New Forest’s wetlands from March to July as its wet and open areas are perfect for breeding. For many years these habitats have been disappearing across the south of England, but now the New Forest Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme is aiming to reverse this trend.

This HLS work is sorely needed as the national population decline of these birds over the last 25 years is stark:

  • Redshank have declined by 62 per cent
  • Curlew have fallen by 24 per cent
  • Lapwing numbers have dropped by 48 per cent.

The scheme is the largest environmental improvement scheme in England, already returning more than 10 miles of streams to their natural meandering routes, improving the habitat of wading birds and a range of other species.

The work reverses the artificial straightening of streams carried out by the Victorians which has dried out bogs and mires. People can also help protect these birds which nest on the ground by keeping themselves and their dogs on the main tracks in the main breeding season of March to July. Research has found that HLS work on ‘maintaining and, where possible, enhancing the water-holding ability of the various mire systems within the New Forest is crucial to maintaining viable populations of breeding waders.’

Nick Wardlaw, HLS Contract Manager, said: ‘Breeding waders need wetland habitats to provide feeding areas for their chicks at this time of year.

‘Their populations have been falling over recent years, but we’re taking positive steps to restore a number of unique wetlands to give ground-nesting birds as much help as possible. By restoring their habitat to prime condition and the public using the Forest considerately, we are all giving these birds the best chance of success that we can.’

As a whole, the project aims to increase the New Forest’s resilience in the face of modern day pressures, such as population growth and increased visitor numbers. It is a rare opportunity to conserve fragile declining habitats.

The 10-year HLS agreement with Natural England is held by the Verderers of the New Forest. The scheme is managed by them in partnership with the Forestry Commission and the New Forest National Park Authority.

To find out more about wetland restoration and the wider HLS scheme visit

Notes to photo editor

Lapwing chicks at a restored wetland site in the north of the New Forest.

Notes to editor