Decline in Scottish corncrake population branded 'concerning'

Corncrakes are monitored in 16 areas across Scotland and surveyors have noted a decline since 2014.

Decline in Scottish corncrake population branded ‘concerning’ by RSPB Scotland RSPB Images

A decline in corncrakes across Scotland has been described as “really concerning” by a leading bird charity.

The annual survey conducted by the RSPB Scotland revealed just 824 calling males were recorded in 2022, compared to 850 in 2021.

The figures represent a 3% decline and a continuation of the downward trend since 2014, when numbers were at 1289.

Corncrakes are described as incredibly elusive birds that migrate to Scotland every summer from Africa.

While they used to be found across the UK, the changes in agricultural practices in the 19th and 20th century saw their range and numbers decrease. They are now found in a few isolated pockets of Scotland.

The ongoing survival of the species is a result of work by farmers and crofters who receive support from Scottish Government agricultural payments to ensure land is managed in ways that is friendly to corncrakes.

Methods include planting vegetation to provide the birds with cover, delaying mowing and mowing fields from the inside out to allow birds hiding in the crops to escape to the edges.

The Scottish Government are currently consulting on changes to agricultural funding and the RSPB say it is vital that long-term support for farmers and crofters to continue safeguarding corncrakes is continued.

Corncrakes are counted across 16 areas of Scotland with surveyors listening out for the distinctive “crex crex” call of male birds.

While the Inner Hebrides saw a rise of 3.7% compared to 2021, this increase was offset by decreases in other areas including the Outer Hebrides that saw a large 10.1% fall.

Chris Bailey, RSPB Scotland’s advisory manager said: “Whilst the 2022 survey results are only a slight reduction from the year before, it’s really concerning that overall corncrake numbers are down by a third since 2014.

“We’re at a crucial point for helping the species and it’s vital that the farmers and crofters whose land they depend on are supported properly.

“Scottish Government has the ambition to be a global leader in sustainable and regenerative agriculture. It is currently consulting on proposals that will shape how farm funding is spent in future and intends to introduce new legislation to make this possible.

“We urge everyone who wants to see more of this funding used to support nature and climate friendly farming to sign the Farm For Scotland’s Future petition and let the Government know what you think.

“Since a new system of farm payments won’t be in place until 2026, the Scottish Government must continue to provide adequate funding in the meantime for the Agri-Environment-Climate Scheme which supports the management of farmland for corncrakes and other wildlife.”  

The charity’s Corncrake Calling project is supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund with over 25 management agreements and over 280 corncrake initiatives have been arranged through the project for farmers and crofters.

Operation: Broken Feather, a touring exhibition co-designed by the project with high schools across Scotland recently opened at Dumfries Museum, and will be visiting places across the country for the next two years to raise awareness about corncrakes.   

Jane Shadforth, project manager said: “It’s incredible to see how passionate people are about saving corncrakes in Scotland. From communities at the heart of our small corncrake populations to those living elsewhere who are discovering them for the first time, so many people are inspired to help them.

“Our project volunteers are an amazing group, and we’d like to thank them for all their efforts. We’re at a pivotal point for corncrakes and it’s vital the necessary plans and practices are put in place now to ensure they are still here for centuries to come.”

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