Nest trampling and ground nesting birds: Quantifying temporal and spatial overlap between cattle activity and breeding redshank

Elwyn Sharps, Jennifer Smart, Lucy R. Mason, Kate Jones, Martin W. Skov, Angus Garbutt, Jan G. Hiddink

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Conservation grazing for breeding birds needs to balance the positive effects on vegetation structure and negative effects of nest trampling. In the UK, populations of Common redshank Tringa totanus breeding on saltmarshes declined by >50% between 1985 and 2011. These declines have been linked to changes in grazing management. The highest breeding densities of redshank on saltmarshes are found in lightly grazed areas. Conservation initiatives have encouraged low-intensity grazing at <1 cattle/ha, but even these levels of grazing can result in high levels of nest trampling. If livestock distribution is not spatially or temporally homogenous but concentrated where and when redshank breed, rates of nest trampling may be much higher than expected based on livestock density alone. By GPS tracking cattle on saltmarshes and monitoring trampling of dummy nests, this study quantified (i) the spatial and temporal distribution of cattle in relation to the distribution of redshank nesting habitats and (ii) trampling rates of dummy nests. The distribution of livestock was highly variable depending on both time in the season and the saltmarsh under study, with cattle using between 3% and 42% of the saltmarsh extent and spending most their time on higher elevation habitat within 500 m of the sea wall, but moving further onto the saltmarsh as the season progressed. Breeding redshank also nest on these higher elevation zones, and this breeding coincides with the early period of grazing. Probability of nest trampling was correlated to livestock density and was up to six times higher in the areas where redshank breed. This overlap in both space and time of the habitat use of cattle and redshank means that the trampling probability of a nest can be much higher than would be expected based on standard measures of cattle density. Synthesis and applications: Because saltmarsh grazing is required to maintain a favorable vegetation structure for redshank breeding, grazing management should aim to keep livestock away from redshank nesting habitat between mid-April and mid-July when nests are active, through delaying the onset of grazing or introducing a rotational grazing system.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6622–6633
Number of pages12
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number16
Early online date28 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2017


  • agri-environment
  • animal movements
  • cow
  • shorebirds
  • waders

Cite this