CORN CRAKES IN THE HEBRIDES
Until the late 1800s, the Corn Crake bred commonly in almost every county across Britain. A century later, the 1993 survey recorded just 480 birds – and 92% of these birds were on the Hebrides. This first fact threatened the Corn Crake with extinction. The latter saved it. What was once a bird of hay meadows across the wider countryside had become a bird of hay meadows on the Hebrides. This was, put simply, the last place where late-cut and insect-rich grasslands existed on a scale large enough to support a Corn Crake population, rather than a few doomed individuals. We know today that the Corn Crake bounced back due to superb conservation work by the RSPB; but how was that work possible? On the Hebrides in 1993 – the low point of Corn Crake decline – there were 106 calling male Corn Crakes on Lewis, 66 on North Uist, 50 on South Uist and 111 on the tiny island of Tiree. So, even at that low point, here were four islands with connected Corn Crake populations, in a landscape where people were doing the right thing for birds on a big scale. That meant the RSPB had a population, rather than a few pairs, when they took on the case of the Corn Crake – and spectacularly won. As a result, from a population as low as 50 males on South Uist, there were, in the last survey, 90 males. What’s interesting is that numbers from the key strongholds in 1993 were, in most cases, close to Viktoria’s 50-year threshold for shrikes. And Corn Crakes are a comparable species, because, like shrikes, they are long-range summer migrants of which only one third make it back the following summer. In a nutshell, Corn Crakes had the decency to persist in one large haven. This bought the RSPB time to expand their habitat. As always, connection is king.