An introduction from Dr Robin Buxton
Like flood plain hay meadows, a great many wet pastures have been drained, levelled, ploughed, reseeded fertilised and topped to keep a uniform sward rather than a mosaic of tall and short, wet and dry, rich and poor, grassy and herby, open ground and dense cover with good nesting sites. Livestock and their management have also changed, with more and often heavier stock, often being grazed intensively for relatively short periods. Most livestock are treated prophylactically against intestinal nematode worms and we know that this makes their dung toxic to the larvae of many dung beetles. There is very little information on the effect of veterinary treatments, on most other soil-living invertebrates, which are probably the source of many of the insects that make up the Yellow Wagtail’s diet.
Yellow Wagtail was a familiar bird 60 years ago, strongly associated with grazing cattle in wet pastures. It still breeds in Oxfordshire in tiny numbers. As migrants, they may be affected by events beyond our control, but here they forage on small insects, in the muddy edges of streams, ditches and pools – the story of insect declines is all too familiar.
The four miles of Thames-bank present a unique opportunity for a landscape scale conservation project and I am delighted Wild Oxfordshire has joined the partnership, alongside Earth Trust and Church Farm Partnership, to ensure that we learn and communicate as much as possible for conservation. We have fantastic graziers, who are committed to the welfare of their cattle and sheep, as well as to the health of the habitats they are helping to manage. They are key to successful implementation, but so too is knowledge and evidence. We need to record and understand what changes happen on the ground and to this end Wild Oxfordshire has employed Sophie Cunnington to work with me to get a baseline of data on invertebrate numbers and productivity in the pastures that have just come into our management and compare this with land that has been managed sympathetically. Covid-19 virus is posed logistical challenges, but we are now collecting good baseline data.