Emma J Sheard

Photo of Emma Sheard, PhD StudentPhD Research Student

MSc. Ecology, Evolution & Conservation, Imperial College London (2011)
BSc. (Hons) Biological Sciences, University of Birmingham (2009)

Supervisors: Dr Kirsty Park (University of Stirling)
Dr Heather McCallum (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds)
Professor Jeremy Wilson (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds)

Start Date: 1st January 2014

4V5, Cottrell Building
Biological & Environmental Sciences
Faculty of Natural Sciences
University of Stirling
Stirling, Scotland, FK9 4LA

tel: +44 (0)1786 467794
fax: +(44) 1786 467843 
email: e.j.sheard@stir.ac.uk

Research Project

Translating small scale ecological studies to large scale agricultural practices: breeding waders and grassland management

Declines in farmland biodiversity during the last century have been widely attributed to the intensification and expansion of modern agricultural practices (Krebs et al. 1999; Stoate et al. 2009). This is of particular concern in the United Kingdom (UK) where approximately 75% of land is classed as agricultural. The negative effects of agricultural processes on birds has been particularly well documented, with farmland breeding wader populations, especially those in lowland England and Wales, suffering catastrophic long-term population declines (www.bto.org). The breeding wader community of marginal, upland farmland was thought to have escaped such losses, with Scotland considered critically important in supporting UK populations of breeding waders (Wilson 2011). Recent declines, however, have been identified in Scotland, with losses of 48% of Lapwings, 55% of Curlews, and 29% of Oystercatchers on Breeding Bird Survey squares since the mid-1990s, and Redshank now too scarce for a trend to be reported (www.bto.org). Although there is evidence that agri-environment scheme (AES) management directed at waders can reverse population declines at field and farm scales in Scotland, implementation has been far too limited to stem ongoing declines nationally (O’Brien & Wilson 2011). Current AES prescriptions designed to benefit waders on agricultural grasslands are based primarily on manipulation of stocking regimes to limit nest loss by trampling and of water tables to ensure good foraging conditions.

This PhD will build on research findings identified by a recent PhD project by Heather McCallum (2012) on the Ecology and conservation of breeding lapwings in upland grassland systems: effects of agricultural management and soil properties, which focussed on an upland livestock farm in Stirlingshire, with unusually high densities of breeding lapwings. Overall the results from this study suggested that, soil pH amendment by liming, in leached, upland grassland environments, could be an important management tool to improve conditions for breeding lapwings and other farmland breeding waders where earthworms constitute a major part of the diet.

I intend to carry on this research by carrying out large scale experimental management trials involving lime use on pasture grassland.  Trials will be at a large enough scale that it should be possible to detect a response in breeding waders. In addition, a detailed economic assessment, using “real” data on yields will be conducted and this will help inform future agri-environment schemes for breeding waders.

Funding acknowledgements

This PhD is funded by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA).

© University of Stirling FK9 4LA Scotland UK • Telephone +44 1786 473171 • Scottish Charity No SC011159
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