Not everyone enjoyed the cold, wet spring, but it was a blessing for godwits. ‘We haven’t seen this many chicks survive in years’, says meadow bird researcher Jos Hooijmeijer.
Because of the cold, the grass didn’t grow as fast, which meant farmers cut it later. The result was that godwits were able to better hide their eggs, meaning they were less vulnerable to predators. During the young godwits’ adolescence, the low grass meant that insects were buzzing everywhere, a veritable buffet for the birds. ‘Everything worked out in their favour’, says Hooijmeijer.
After several disastrous years, 2021 looks to be going better. It’s estimated that half of the chicks are still alive, which is extraordinary. ‘But they’re not out of the woods yet. They need to hold on for a few more weeks. In a good year, approximately 15 percent will be left in the end.’ That’s enough to prevent the already declining population from plummeting even further.
And yet, it’s only relatively good news. Hooijmeijer says the baseline has shifted. ‘In the sixties, this would have been an average year, but today, we call it a good year. Fortunately, godwits are fairly resilient, or they would have gone extinct years ago.’
Saving the godwit will take some work. Some areas are deliberately not being mowed to allow the birds to live there. ‘That’s giving us some time. But more godwits die than are being born every year.’
There’s also a disadvantage to these sheltered fields in agricultural areas, says Hooijmeijer: ‘They’re a smorgasbord for predators.’ The predators have only benefited from urbanisation and conservation laws over the past few years. More action is needed.
The changing landscape is the biggest factor endangering the meadow bird. ‘In the short term, these lucky breaks are good news’, says Hooijmeijer. ‘But we need a grander plan for agricultural reform if we want to save the godwits.’