- 870 calling males were recorded in Scotland in 2023, up from 828 in 2022. These figures give hope and could represent a turning point for the red listed bird.
- The rise in numbers is thanks to the combined efforts of local communities, farmers, crofters and landowners through the “Corncrake calling” partnership project.
- The project, and its successes, highlights the importance of supporting crofters, farmers and land managers through funding schemes that support farming in a nature and climate friendly way.
Corncrake numbers in Scotland have seen their first rise in five years, RSPB Scotland’s annual survey can reveal. This year 870 calling males of these shy rare birds were recorded by the nature conservation charity, up from 828 the previous year.
As a red listed species, this takes Scotland’s Corncrake population back to levels not seen since 2019. Whilst still significantly lower than the 2014 high of 1282 calling males, the number marks an important result in efforts to save these birds in what is hoped could be a turning point in their recovery.
Corncrakes are incredibly secretive small brown birds, and are close relatives to moorhens and coots, though they spend the winter months in Congo, migrating back to a few places across Northern Ireland and Scotland’s islands and mainland to breed. Previously found across the UK, the mechanisation of farming meant most of their breeding habitats were lost, except for the few remaining areas in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
RSPB Scotland credits the very welcome increase in numbers this year to partnership working in Corncrake areas with the local communities, through its Corncrake Calling project. This has increased the quality and the quantity of suitable Corncrake habitat and Corncrake friendly land management practices in key places for these birds, while crucially delivering benefits for farmers, crofters and landowners too.
Supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the project has worked closely with farmers, crofters and land managers to provide advisory support in order to increase the area of land being made Corncrake friendly. Corncrake friendly land management is a year-round commitment, even though the birds are only here as summer migrants, and so the results indicate the importance of these land managers being offered more support through Government funding schemes to farm in a more nature and climate friendly way.
Over winter, vegetation corridors of Irises, Nettles and Cow Parsley are encouraged to grow by controlling how they are grazed by livestock, usually using fences, and spreading manure. The birds use these as cover from predators to move about and hide in. In summer, later mowing dates are required to ensure their nests and chicks aren’t destroyed.
Corncrakes are surveyed by counting the number of calling male birds who make a distinctive “crex crex” noise at night during the breeding season. The islands of Coll, Tiree and Lewis – where much of this work has been taking place – have all seen significant increases in the number of males heard this year.
Talking of the results, Anne McCall, Director of RSPB Scotland said: “These results are a significant moment for efforts to save Corncrakes in Scotland and a real tribute to the enormous collective effort of farmers, crofters and local communities to help these birds through Corncrake Calling. While we need to see sustained rises year on year to reverse the decline in Corncrake numbers, this year’s result of 870 brings hope of a turning point. It shows that targeting the quality and quantity of Corncrake friendly habitat and land management yields results.
“Corncrakes only live for a couple of years so it’s vital that as many chicks as possible survive each year to make their great migration south. These birds used to be found across the UK so these few areas in Scotland are very special. Corncrake Calling has allowed us to really focus our efforts with these communities to safeguard their future here, and shows the collaborative approach needed across the country to help reverse nature declines.”
Caroline Clark, The National Lottery Heritage Fund Director for Scotland, said; “It is very encouraging to see the increase in Corncrake numbers recorded this year, and to hear positive feedback from the community that working with the Corncrake Calling project to protect and enhance habits is also benefitting business.
“Included in our investment principles is a commitment to strengthening heritage to be adaptive and financially resilient, contributing to communities and economies. This project is a great example of delivering on that by supporting work with landowners, farmers and crofters to find solutions that benefit nature and their businesses.”
Corncrake Calling is a key example of how nature conservationists, land managers, farmers, crofters and communities, are working together to deliver positive results for nature. The recently published State of Nature report outlined that shocking extent of ongoing nature loss, on top of historic human impacts on biodiversity. The challenge in tackling this is to scale up and extend such collaborative working across much wider areas, as nature simply cannot wait.
Main image: Corncrake, Crex crex. Oronsay RSPB reserve, Argyll. Scotland. May 2006.