WILF Norman will be up with the lark when he starts a new project to plot the birds which nest on farmland in the North York Moors.

He will be on the road before dawn for the next three months, as he carries out a survey of the wading birds breeding or feeding on farmland in the national park.

His findings will reveal new information about the importance of the area for birds such as lapwing, curlew and snipe.

An ornithologist for almost 50 years, Mr Norman is used to rising at dawn but even his ready smile slips a little at the thought of three months of early starts.

He was involved in a wader survey in the area in 1996 and another in 2000, so was perhaps an obvious choice to be asked to complete the newest and biggest project.

A member of the South Cleveland Bird Ringing Group for 20 years, he recalled how in the mid-Eighties they would regularly ring 200 lapwing but, by 1991, the figure dropped to an all-time low of just 24.

However, the 1996 survey showed a significant increase in lapwing and curlew and he is hopeful that this summer's report will show an even better result.

Mr Norman, who lives next to the preserved railway line in Grosmont, believes the switch to autumn planting of cereals was a major factor in the drop in lapwing numbers, as it badly affected their nesting grounds.

The new survey is particularly interested in gathering information on waders on the in-by land which lies just below the moorland and the pasture land.

He and Cleo Small, a scientist who has studied waders in the Pennines, will together visit 60 farmland sites picked at random within the national park on three separate occasions to record bird activity.

"The biggest problem may be the weather; it is no good if there are strong winds or rain," said Mr Norman, who will also be out for three hours at dusk every day of the project.

The national park has written to farmers within its boundaries telling them of the survey.

"Most farmers like their waders and like to do what they can to help them," said Mr Norman, "We hope this survey will give them help to do that."

About 40pc of the national park is farmed and the survey results will be used to develop practical advice to help farmers manage their land with wildlife in mind.

The open moorland of the park is already known to be important for breeding birds but, to date, little information has been gathered about the birds which nest and feed at lower levels on the in-by land.

There is also very little known about how these birds use the other farmland in the national park, such as that along the coast and the Tabular Hills behind Pickering and Kirkbymoorside.

The survey is jointly organised by the North York Moors National Park Authority, the RSPB and English Nature.

Nicola Melville, RSPB conservation officer for North Yorkshire, said the survey provided an exciting opportunity to find out new information about the farmland birds of the North York Moors.

Rona Charles, National Park ecologist, said they were conscious that farmed land might be very important for breeding waders, but only very general advice could be given to farmers. "This survey will help us to provide specific advice on what these birds need to help them breed successfully in this national park," she said.

David Clayden of English Nature said: "It has long been known that there is an important interdependent link between the moorland and in by areas for moorland birds. However, this link has never been fully investigated.

"This survey will go a long way towards helping us all to understand this link and look at ways it may be improved by influencing local farming management."

As for Mr Norman, he will take a well earned break in Greece after the survey. "But I'll be up at dawn every day to see the birds we don't get over here!" he said.