In this blog Chris Bailey provides an overview of 2021 survey results from the 16 core areas in Scotland as well summarising the additional submissions provided by the public through the new Corncrake Calling recording system.    

Earlier this year John Bowler wrote a blog - "By the dead of night" for Corncrake Calling highlighting how he surveyed corncrakes on Tiree. To have the opportunity to do this is a special experience but one that required John to become nocturnal given surveying took place between midnight and 3am. Pulling together the results of the three sets of surveys carried out in June allowed RSPB to estimate the number of calling males on the island.  

Our monitoring does not stop at Tiree though. Thanks to the support of RSPB staff and volunteers we managed to survey all 16 core areas this year where these elusive birds are found. Today we can announce the final figures for 2021.  

Unfortunately, despite the support of farmers and crofters across the range the picture is disappointing with corncrake numbers in Scotland continuing to decline since 2014. It highlights why there was such an urgent need for RSPB Scotland’s work through the National Lottery Heritage Fund supported project Corncrake Calling which started in August last year.  

In 2021 only 850 calling males were recorded across the 16 areas, down from 870 in 2019. Corncrakes are usually surveyed annually but the COVID-19 travel restrictions in 2020 meant that it was not possible to complete the count across all areas, meaning there was only a partial picture available last year. 

  

Whilst the decline from the 2019 survey is relatively modest, especially compared to other years since 2014 where numbers have seen sharp reductions, it continues the overall worrying downward trend of more than 30% since the record high of 1289 in 2014 and highlights how vulnerable these birds are to change.  

The survey threw up some regional differences in how corncrakes are faring since 2019. In the Inner Hebrides the population fell by 12.2 percent from 2019 but in the Outer Hebrides numbers are up by 9.9 percent. It was particularly pleasing to see numbers increase on the Uists and Lewis with their populations remaining relatively stable over the last 4 years. On Tiree, where John surveyed, the final numbers were 285 birds. Tiree holds by far the highest counts of any island in Scotland but there was a 5% drop in numbers compared to 2019. The reasons for these local and regional differences are unclear but could include factors relating to the weather, changes in the way farms and crofts have been managed on some of the islands in recent years and changes in uptake of the agri-environment schemes.
[N.B.: See Table 1 below the blogpost for survey results by corncrake core area].   

  

Reporting through the Corncrake Calling on-line tool 

As well as the systematic monitoring carried out annually by RSPB Scotland staff and volunteers across the core areas, for the first time there was the opportunity for members of the public to enter records directly on to RSPB website through the Corncrake Calling webpages. We had a great response from the public considering it was launched just as the birds returned to Scotland with 198 records submitted by members of the public. A summary of these can be seen on the Corncrake distribution map . We would like to thank all of those who took the time to enter the records. They have provided additional information which adds to the picture provided by the annual systematic surveys.   

How does the RSPB use these records from the systematic survey and public on-line tool in the three work streams of Corncrake Calling?  

  • Land Management - they will help RSPB Scotland staff focus our advice to farmers and crofters within the core areas enabling better targeting of funding from both the Corncrake Calling project and the new rounds of the Scottish Government funded Agri-environment schemes which were announced at the end of October. The next round of the scheme opens at the end of January. 
  • Advocacy - Helping advocate for rural development polices from 2025 which provide increased support for farmers and crofters who farm in a nature and climate friendly way.  
  • Education – We will be able to highlight the vital role the island farming and crofting community play in supporting the UK Corncrake population through the projects we undertake in schools and through our engagement with wider public across Scotland.  

How can you help Corncrake Calling?  

Why not sign up to become a corncrake champion  so you can hear about the latest from the project. There are various ways you can help the project including reporting your sightings of  corncrake   if you are lucky enough to hear one next year whilst on holiday or if they are calling close to where you live.

Table 1: 2017-2021 Scotland Corncrake Survey results by core area:

 

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