I’VE just finished this painting of a lapwing with its chicks and am pleased with the iridescent plumage. I studied it a few years ago on a farm owned by a friend, Jeremy Kemp, in Melbourne.

Jeremy had been awarded one of Defra’s Higher Level Stewardship Schemes and had put aside two five-acre strips for breeding lapwings. He had three nesting pairs on the strip.

Lapwings have been in decline since the 1950s. One of the problems is that they nest in large, open areas where vegetation is short.

The trend for autumn sown crops means the vegetation is usually too high by the time lapwings are nesting, so they tend to choose ploughed fields where they run the risk of losing their eggs under the rollers.

My father (who in 1995 won one of conservationist’s most sought-after prizes, the silver lapwing award, for the work he did to promote wildlife at his farm in Givendale) used to mark out lapwing nests with flags to ensure the drivers didn’t mow them down.

Jeremy had recently “disked” his lapwing strip to create the right, ploughed, effect to encourage the birds. But finding the nests in the freshly-turned earth proved to be a difficult task.

As we drove up to the edge of the field, six lapwings immediately took flight. We stopped and watched. Within 10 minutes the birds came back and settled down to brood.

Not wanting to bring the car any closer, we fixed our eyes on each spot and approached cautiously on foot.

The lapwings flew off as we got closer. It took a while to find the nest, which was camouflaged in a simple scrape in the earth and lined with dry grasses.

Lapwings are very sensitive so rather than build a hide at the site, I brought a readymade one which I could easily rock out of the back of a trailer at the edge of the field.

I carried it into the field and set it down 30 metres away from the nest. During the course of the following week I moved the hide a few metres closer each day.

It took me all week to find the other two nests. I marked these with hazel twigs and kept an eye on them from my hide.

By the second week my hide was only nine metres away from the first nest. Then one evening I looked in on one of the two nests marked with hazel twigs and discovered four chicks had recently hatched. Two were still wet. But I had missed my chance to photograph the female with the chicks.

I put up a second hide near the nest that was still to hatch and also put an egg from the first nest to my ear – I heard a faint cheeping and tapping. I arrived early the next day fully expecting to see the chicks, but there was just a small chip in each of the eggs.

The next day there was a downpour and I couldn’t get out until evening. When I got to the hide the chicks had hatched. I had missed it.

Thankfully the eggs on the second nest were now chipping. The following morning three chicks had hatched. They were still damp. And one egg was still to hatch. At last, this was the moment I had been waiting for.

The female lapwing arrived and began to shuffle about to make herself comfortable. She was unable to settle until everything was just right and began tidying up all the empty eggshells before she finally settled down.

As the morning wore on she would stand up every so often to check her chicks. By late morning the three chicks had dried out and were taking their first steps on oversized, wobbly legs.

They were quite adventurous and soon began foraging on their own, pecking at insects and scratching about. They got tired and fell asleep in the sun but she soon called them back under her. After five hours in the hide I was pleased with the photographs I had and so left the new family to their adventures.

I am always very careful to cause as little disturbance as possible to nesting wild birds, but over the years I have noticed that my presence at a nest has one positive consequence - it unnerves predators such as crows.

And it is such a positive thing that Defra, under the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme, is helping farmers to protect these beautiful birds. Hopefully one day lapwings will be as common here as they are on the Dales.