Population sizes and trends of breeding meadow birds in Denmark


175 – 189

9 December 18

Ole Thorup


Ole Thorup
Amphi Consult, V. Vedsted Byvej 32, Vester Vedsted, DK-6760 Ribe, Denmark


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This paper presents available count data to review population sizes and trends of seven species of grassland and saltmarsh breeding shorebirds (hereafter ‘meadow birds’) in Denmark: Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus, Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata, Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus, Common Redshank Tringa totanus, Dunlin Calidris alpina, Ruff Calidris pugnax and Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa. Knowledge about population sizes and trends is fairly fragmentary because Denmark has no national monitoring programme covering the more widespread species such as Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Curlew and Redshank. The less numerous and more localized Dunlin, Ruff and Black-tailed Godwit are better monitored through conservation projects and national monitoring programs.

On wet grasslands, Lapwings and Redshanks are the most numerous breeding shorebirds with approximately 10,500 and 6,200 pairs, respectively. For both species, numbers breeding on wet grassland have remained stable in Denmark in 1970–2015. However, the majority of breeding Lapwings are found in arable land, at present some 15,000 pairs, and in this habitat numbers have continued to decline strongly. Denmark holds approximately a third of the Baltic biogeographic population of Dunlins, at present 170 pairs. This is less than a quarter of the population 40–50 years ago, and the strongest declines took place between 1990 and 2005. Most pairs are now concentrated in four sites with favourable management for the species, where numbers are similar to those in 1970. As of 2012–2013, there were 100 breeding female Ruffs left, which is less than 10% of the numbers in the late 1960s. Since 1990, Black-tailed Godwits have decreased strongly. Before 1990 they had increased, and the 440 pairs in 2015 is similar to the number in 1972. The small numbers of Curlews in Denmark increased from the 1960s to the 1990s and have been stable since then. Oystercatchers were increasing until around 1990, but thereafter they decreased again.

Baltic Dunlins and Ruffs are now more or less confined to a very few sites, where it is possible to control management in great detail and to keep sufficiently high freshwater-tables in most years. Both species disappeared from wet grassland elsewhere, where they were widespread 40–50 years ago. Currently, the same process is apparently affecting Black-tailed Godwits; they disappear from known breeding sites every year. In many cases the management actions that could improve the situation are well known, but rarely are the financial resources available and/or the willingness from landowners is absent to implement such actions and the necessary changes in management. In a few selected key meadow bird sites, management has been finetuned, with late mowing and controlled grazing. In general, however, conservation of wet grassland has been accomplished with funding from agri-environment schemes with grazing agreements, but without very specific conservation arrangements. This seems to work well in coastal wet grassland for the widespread and less specialized meadow birds, but is not fulfilling the demands of the more specialized meadow birds with smaller habitat niches.