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The tribulations of the Northern Lapwing in the Marais Poitevin

Reconciling biodiversity and agriculture by means of agri-environmental measures is still a subject of considerable debate. INRA researchers from Versailles-Grignon have focused on conservation of the Northern Lapwing in the marshy region of the Marais Poitevin, in order to develop a dynamic model and compare these different schemes. They were thus able to demonstrate that measures which give priority to results offer a good compromise between production and conservation.

Vanneau huppé au bord d'un étang. © RENAUD Guy
Updated on 06/26/2014
Published on 10/22/2012

In addition to economic performance and food security, modern farming integrates certain environmental, social and cultural dimensions.  One of the crucial issues is then to reconcile agricultural production targets and the conservation of biodiversity.  Since the early 1990s, agri-environmental measures have been implemented in Europe to encourage this multifunctionality.  These schemes may:

  • be action-oriented and prefer the implementation of farming practices that favour the environment;
  • be result-oriented and based on remunerating the biodiversity that is actually present on plot;
  • or be focused on habitat and aim to offer a habitat that is suitable for targeted species.

INRA scientists in Versailles-Grignon, working in collaboration with their CNRS and MNHN colleagues, chose to compare these three types of measures.  They focused on the Northern Lapwing, a small wading bird that assiduously frequents the wet meadows of the Marais Poitevin and whose life cycle is closely linked to grassland management methods.  The scientists developed a model that took account of the dynamics of populations of this bird and of grassland grazing.

The scientists thus demonstrated that for a similar level of production, agri-environmental measures targeting habitat (to obtain adequate grass height while limiting trampling) or results (i.e. a certain size of bird populations) guaranteed better ecological performance than action-oriented measures (implying limits on the number of animals at key time points during the life cycle of the Northern Lapwing).
Result-oriented measures also enable greater flexibility in terms of grassland management, allowing farmers the freedom to choose their strategies and adapt them to local conditions and climatic variations. Taking account of the spatial dimensions of grassland management by integrating interactions between different farms in the overall results for a territory is the next step necessary in order to evaluate the feasibility of such measures.
Opening the debate on grassland management strategies linked to the conservation of wild species living in these ecosystems provides an opportunity for the negotiation of agri-environmental measures.

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The Northern Lapwing and the wet grasslands of the Atlantic coast

The Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) is present both in France and throughout the northern hemisphere.
It nests in early spring.  The female lays her eggs in a cavity dug in the soil by the male during the courtship period.  At this time of year, the nests are highly susceptible to the risk of being trampled by cattle.  Incubation lasts for 26 days.  The chicks leave the nest a few hours after hatching, and spend a month feeding themselves before taking flight.  They are then very susceptible to the height of grass in the pasture, which may prevent their takeoff if it is too tall.

Grazing thus has a dual effect on the birds: firstly, trampling may crush the eggs in the nests, but secondly, grazing limits grass height and supplies a habitat that is favourable to the young birds.  The problem is therefore to find the best compromise between the positive and negative effects of grazing.


Sabatier R. Doyen L. and Tichit M. 2012. Action versus result-oriented schemes in a grassland agroecosystem: a dynamic modelling approach,  PLoS ONE 7(4): e33257.  doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0033257