With their slender beaks and twig-like legs, they’re among the most instantly recognisable icons of Scotland’s moors and coastlines.

But time is running out for wading birds such as curlews, oystercatchers and lapwings. New data shows their numbers are plummeting.

The curlew, famous for its haunting and evocative call, has been particularly hard hit. Its population has dropped 61 per cent since 1994.

There are an estimated 55% fewer lapwings, while oystercatcher numbers have slumped by 38% over the past 22 years.

Experts said the declines, recorded in the Working for Waders annual report, were partly due to the impact of modern agriculture and predators.

And they have warned some species could disappear entirely if swift action isn’t taken. Now farmers, crofters and other land managers are being urged to team up and make their territory as welcoming as possible for the birds.

Creating wader habitats by not draining wet areas in fields, introducing seasonal grazing to prevent damage to eggs or chicks, and controlling predators such as foxes are all steps that could help reverse the trend, said researchers at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

And they have stressed changes can be brought in without removing productive land from use.

Professor Davy McCracken, head of the SRUC’s hill and mountain research centre, said: “Some actions can be win-wins for farmers, as they benefit both agricultural productivity and the waders.

“For example, applying lime to improve soil pH can increase the abundance of invertebrates the birds prey upon.

“And, outwith the breeding season, cutting rushes provides the birds with access to those invertebrates across a greater area in any one field.”

He added: “The scale of loss has occurred over around 25 years so, on that basis, if you take lapwings, we’ve lost around half of them over that period.

“If we see the same scale of loss over the next 25 years, we would lose them completely.

“And the smaller the population gets, the quicker that’s likely to happen.

“[It means] there are fewer birds to keep an eye out for predators coming in.”

Noting that waders are, historically, “as much birds of farmland as of moorland”,

Mr MrCracken said the impact of modern agricultural methods had been significant.

“The habitat might have been intensively managed so there’s more chance of machinery [disturbing a nest], or of livestock accidentally stepping in a nest,” he added.

Some land managers have already taken steps to boost bird populations.

Bruce Cooper, estate manager at Glen Prosen near Kirriemuir in Angus, said he was shocked to see wading numbers “falling through the floor”.

“We’re proud to have good numbers of curlews, lapwings and oystercatchers at Glen Prosen, but it’s not a matter of luck,” he told the authors of the Working for Waders report.

“We work very hard on predator control and habitat management to make sure we keep hold of these birds, and I’ve no doubt that we would soon lose them altogether if we stopped doing what we’re doing.

“Predators can wipe out broods of young lapwings, and curlews can be very vulnerable when they’re young.

“So there’s still time to reverse this and there’s a lot that individual farmers and crofters could do on their own land.”

But Mr McCracken stressed that working together would be vital to protecting Scotland’s birds.

“It’s becoming clear that in order to be effective, wader conservation has to be rolled out across large areas, with collaborative projects involving multiple farms, estates and landholdings,” he said.

Working for Waders, which is co-chaired by the SRUC and SNH, has also created dedicated maps to show what activity is currently being undertaken to reverse the declining numbers, and where resources need to be targeted.

Robbie Kernahan, Acting Director of Sustainable Growth at SNH, said: “Waders are an integral part of Scotland’s nature, and by working together, we have the best possible opportunity to help them thrive.”