Tiree remains a stronghold for rare and declining corncrake population
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.’