This species has declined by about 62 per cent over the past 20 years in lowland
To understand whether snipe are fairing better in upland areas, the Trust's study investigated both habitat use and the food preferences of breeding Common Snipe on moorland in northern
On lowland wet grassland, the snipe's breeding season is determined by the duration for which the soil remains soft enough for the birds to probe for food such as earthworms and tipulid larvae (crane fly or mosquito larvae).
However, since the 1940s the serious population decline in lowland areas has been driven by the loss of this soft wet grassland habitat through increased land drainage aimed at creating more arable land, as well as increased livestock grazing.
But between 1980 and 1990 the number of sheep in the uplands more than doubled, resulting in a shift from heather-dominated habitats to heather/grass mosaics in many areas. Although this might have made some moors marginally more attractive to breeding snipe, it is likely to have resulted in increased trampling rates of snipe nests – one of the major factors that caused snipe to decline in lowland wet grasslands. In addition, the agricultural improvement of pasture fields adjoining moorland is detrimental to most breeding waders, including snipe, and improved grass held the lowest snipe densities within the study sites.
Dr Andrew Hoodless, who carried out this research on The Game Conservancy Trust's study sites at Otterburn in Northumberland, said: "Because of its specialist feeding requirements, snipe are very susceptible to habitat change. Given the poor status of breeding snipe in lowland Britain and the emerging evidence of declines on upland marginal grassland, we need to ensure that any future upland habitat management practices are beneficial to snipe and do not result in further deterioration of their important moorland habitats."
Photo: Common Snipe by Alexis de le Serre