How corncrakes helped Amy to straighten out her life

ALTHOUGH it was published seven years ago by Canongate Books, The Outrun by Amy Liptrot has not dated.

It recounts how she became addicted to alcohol after she left her home on a sheep farm in The Orkneys to work in London - a consequence of her clubbing and party-going nightlife.

A vital step in her road to recovery came when she returned home and spent seven weeks on an RSPB contract to monitor calling corncrakes.

Amy, now 42 and living in West Yorkshire with her partner and two sons, has also worked as an artist's model, as a trampolinist and as a shellfish factory operative.

But, at least for birders, her life among the corncrakes is likely to be of particular interest.

Her work involved surveying nightly every one-kilometre map grid reference square containing suitable corncrake habitat - hay and silage fields and areas of tall vegetation such as nettles or iris.


"Somehow this bird became my thing," she writes. "I changed the ringtone on my phone to a corncrake call.

"Their well-documented decline is undoubtedly down to human activity so it seems right that we should take responsibility to conserve the last few."

The author admits that, at times, she craved a bottle of wine and was thankful that Orkney had no 24-hour off-licences. She had to make do with a flask of coffee.

Amy also desktop-researched the species, noting with dismay that only 30 per cent of the birds that overwinter in the Democratic Republic of the Congo return to their vanishingly scarce breeding haunts in Britain, some of them perishing after having been trapped in hunters' nets in North Africa.

During her seven week as a surveyor, Amy also delighted in the company of curlews, lapwings, oystercatchers and short-eared owls - known locally as 'catty-faces'.

She counted a total of 32 calling male corncrakes - one more than had been logged the previous year.

Corncrakes are notoriously hard to see, so did she ever strike lucky?

She writes: "Then, one night, just when I finished my survey, I pulled slowly away in the car and something unexpected happened.

"It's just a moment but it's in the road right in front of me, a corncrake, running into the grass verge.

"Its image, the pink beak and ginger wing, keep darting through my mind - just a second that confirmed the existence I'd spent months searching for.

"My first and only corncrake!

"Usually dawn comes slowly but, tonight, I drive out of a cloud, and suddenly it's a new day."

Enchanting!

* Amy's nude frolic at Neolithic stone circle - see The Wryneck

  • www.rspb.org.uk/.../scottish-corncrakes
    Good news in 2023. The first rise in number of pairs of Corncrakes in Scotland for 5 years Iremember my week long holiday to the Outer Hebrides in 2019. The year before Covid struck in 2020. A holiday I will never forget. Not just the wildlife, but the scenery and machair(hope I’ve spelt that right. My local RSPB Group including myself heard the Corncrakes all over the Outer Hebrides. But did we see that bird. Even only 3 feet away on the other side of the fence for more than 1 hour. But no one from group saw that elusive bird. But on the other hand we did see Golden Eagles, White Tailed Eagles, various nesting divers, nesting red necked phalaropes, Hen Harriers in double figure's.and lots more. Also a nesting pair or Whooper Swans. Even though Whooper Swans can be seen at some places in there thousands, Whooper Swans do have a small, nesting population in Northern Scotland just in double number of pairs.