Despite the protective measures that have been implemented to increase the productivity of meadow birds, populations are still declining in most breeding and wintering areas. We therefore still do not know how large the protective efforts need to be to curb the decline of the meadow bird populations. By taking advantage of monitoring data from the populations of lapwings in the Netherlands (NL) and one region in Germany [Schleswig‐Holstein (SH)], we investigated the demographic drivers responsible for the decline of the populations and evaluated the impact of protective measures. In these populations, some nests are marked with sticks such that they are not destroyed by farming activity. We analyzed the data with integrated population models and show that average demographic rates were similar in the two populations. Retrospective analyses demonstrated that variation in productivity most strongly impacted population dynamics and that its variation was influenced by the local environments. Our results confirmed that low productivity (0.55 and 0.46 fledglings per pairs in SH and NL, respectively) was the main reason for the decline of the lapwing populations. Productivity of 0.76 (SH) and 0.91 (NL) fledglings per pairs would be required to stabilize the populations. The implemented nest protection had a positive effect on nest success, but did not improve chick survival, and consequently the effect on population growth rates remained insufficient. The population growth rate in NL would increase by only 2% if all nests were protected. Our results suggest that protective measures should prioritize the reduction in predation and the improvement of chick habitat by promoting heterogeneous swards combining tall vegetation for hiding and short and open vegetation for foraging.