Tiree re­mains a strong­hold for rare and de­clin­ing corn­crake pop­u­la­tion

The Oban Times - - Arena - By Beth Camp­bell, S6, Oban High School

POP­U­LA­TIONS of one of Scot­land’s rarest breed­ing birds – the corn­crake – have suf­fered a fall in num­bers for the se­cond year run­ning.

In to­tal, 1,059 call­ing males were counted dur­ing RSPB Scot­land’s an­nual sur­vey. That’s a drop of three per cent when com­pared with 2015, and a de­crease of 20 per cent com­pared with 2014.

Corn­crakes are elu­sive, ch­est­nut coloured birds that are re­lated to moorhens and coots. They breed in Scot­land dur­ing spring and sum­mer be­fore mi­grat­ing back to Africa for win­ter.

The birds are only found in a few iso­lated parts of Scot­land, mainly on the is­lands and the far north­west coast. This year, the Isle of Tiree was the big­gest strong­hold, with 346 call­ing males recorded.

Stu­art Hous­den, di­rec­tor of RSPB Scot­land, said: ‘The Scot­tish corn­crake has be­come em­blem­atic of con­ser­va­tion suc­cess in Europe. Ef­fec­tive fi­nan­cial sup­port to crofters and farm­ers has en­abled them to de­liver what threat­ened wildlife needs, ben­e­fit­ing na­ture, farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties and all of us as a re­sult.

‘Fol­low­ing the EU ref­er­en­dum vote, we face huge un­cer­tain­ties re­gard­ing the fu­ture of agri­cul­tural sup­port pay­ments. Dur­ing this pe­riod, the for­tunes of our corn­crakes, and the high na­ture value farm­ing and croft­ing sys­tems that sup­port them, stand as a key test for the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment.

‘It is a mis­take to think of agri- en­vi­ron­ment schemes as money that is an op­tional ex­tra. It pays for in­vest­ment and ac­tiv­ity which is of vi­tal im­por­tance to ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, tourism and our wildlife. Ex­ist­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal schemes with ef­fec­tive mea­sures for wildlife, and the right pay­ment rates to en­sure good up­take by farm­ers, must re­main in place next year and be­yond un­til new ar­range­ments have been de­vel­oped.’

This year on the Isle of Colon­say, 52 call­ing males have been sighted com­pared to 55 in 2015 and 86 in 2014. Sim­i­larly, num­bers have fallen from 32 to 28 on Iona and 102 to 84 on Is­lay.

An RSPB spokesper­son con­tin­ued: ‘Corn­crakes are nat­u­rally quite short-lived birds and if habi­tat con­di­tions are not good, we know they will quickly dis­ap­pear from the land­scape. As they rarely colonise new lo­ca­tions, once they are lost from an area, re- coloni­sa­tion can be a ma­jor chal­lenge.

‘De­spite th­ese re­cent de­clines in corn­crake num­bers, this species has re­cov­ered greatly since con­ser­va­tion ef­forts, in part­ner­ship with crofters and farm­ers, be­gan in the early 1990s. At that time, pop­u­la­tions had dwin­dled to just 400 call­ing males.’

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