Wading birds and a shared approach to wildlife management

At the end of last month, NatureScot launched the Shared Approach to Wildlife Management, which sets out how different interest groups can work together to help ensure healthy and valued populations of wildlife across Scotland. In the third of a series of blogs, Davy McCracken of Scotland’s Rural College and co-chair of Working for Waders looks at how this approach can help us address some of the challenges facing wading birds.

What is the shared approach?
The shared approach is a way of working together on wildlife management issues, even when opinions differ. At its heart are the principles of how we can work in partnership: to respect each other’s views, build knowledge, share information, develop a common understanding, clearly communicate decisions and pursue best practice in animal welfare. It advocates that differences in opinion are dealt with in a constructive manner which helps to advance our relationship with nature. In this blog on wading birds, we show how we can apply these principles, particularly in relation to working together.

What does it mean for wading birds?
Wading birds, like curlews, have suffered catastrophic declines in recent years. We have lost nearly two-thirds of our curlews since 1994, and the number of lapwings has halved in the same time. We all love to hear the plaintive call of the curlew and catch a glimpse of the iridescent sheen of a lapwing. Scotland still holds onto these birds in fragmented pockets across the country. Without urgent action, the future looks bleak for several of our most celebrated and exciting species.

Working for Waders was set up in 2017 to try and tackle these losses and save waders from this perilous state. Wading birds are affected by predation, some farming practices, land management changes and other factors outside our control like weather. No one single organisation or group can reverse the declines in waders. Saving our waders depends on farmers, conservationists, keepers and public bodies working together.

Working together is one of the key principles of the shared approach. Working for Waders brings together all those who are involved in and passionate about waders. A Facilitation Team, which I chair along with NatureScot, facilitates collaboration and generates ideas. Membership is open to anyone.

Collaboration and co-production are commonly used words, but not commonly understood at a practical level. Genuine collaboration demands time, effort, a willingness to listen and an acceptance that not everyone will agree. Collaboration needs a common goal. The common goal of Working for Waders is to reverse the decline in waders. There are different opinions on how we do this. Some believe that predator control is key to saving our waders, while others believe we should focus on habitat management.  Both are correct; both are needed. However navigating different values and keeping the focus on the main aim of saving waders is challenging. An example is the perceived conflict between woodland expansion and waders. It is generally recognised that waders need open areas to breed and are negatively impacted by proximity to trees. Working for Waders is teaming up with others to find ways of taking waders into account in land management decisions. Wader hotspot and zoning maps are one of the practical tools which have been developed through Working for Waders to help with this.

Working for Waders provides the space for people to exchange their views, disagree, question and ultimately agree on a way forward. One example of this is a Working for Waders trip to Glen Prosen a couple of years ago, organised by Head Keeper Bruce Cooper. This was an opportunity to see waders, discuss estate management and predator control. These discussions help build relationships, develop trust and help keep channels of communication open. Cutting off communications doesn’t do anyone any favours, least of all waders.

This listening and respecting other’s views is a crucial part of collaborating. It’s not easy and frustrations can surface. It also takes time.  Genuine collaboration requires everyone to play their role and take responsibility. It means everyone participating. This is not easy, especially when people are busy and have competing priorities. But it is worth it. Ideas discussed and explored and shaped by different views and perspectives are more likely to work.

There are still a number of challenges ahead of us. Land management choices and priorities are changing to focus more fully on the biodiversity and climate change emergencies. Curlews and lapwings are red listed and other wading birds are suffering serious declines. The shared approach requires hard work and sustained effort. Working for Waders demonstrates this. It’s not always easy, but it’s far better and more productive to air differences in a shared space than to argue from afar. Disagreements, when channelled and worked through, can lead to new ideas and a better collective understanding.

For more information go to www.workingforwaders.com.

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