Read on to discover how 3 generations on Lewis are helping corncrakes as William Morrison's daughters and grandson enjoy a day as volunteers creating early cover on his family croft...

Author: Shona Morrison, RSPB Lewis Corncrake Warden

This year, we have managed to secure a fantastic croft in Knockaird, Ness, beside Loch Stiapabhat for a 5 year land management agreement.  Corncrake numbers have always been quite healthy on the loch. It is central in our Corncrake Recovery Area, so to be able to secure a croft to create an even larger area for corncrake habitat was a huge bonus.  This croft is owned by an elderly gentleman but is used by a neighbour for his sheep. It is up to me to find a way of working alongside the crofter so that it works well for both the crofter and the corncrake.

 A lot of the grass in the croft is quite old and rank, not ideal for corncrakes, or sheep for that matter.  After I had a chat with the crofter that owns the sheep, I found out he was going to use a section of the croft for the ram and sheep over the next couple of months.  At the end of February, he is happy for me to top it once the sheep leave.  Preparing it for the corncake’s arrival and making it a better, more herb rich, pasture for the sheep in the Autumn.

The bottom of the croft closest to the loch is where I am concentrating on creating a large area of early cover using iris, cow parsley, meadow sweet and nettles.  We already had a volunteers day in the spring in this croft, when we planted iris and meadow sweet.  I am delighted to say that they took off, the first croft where I have managed to successfully grow meadow sweet!  Turns out it loves damp areas (but not very wet, like iris).

Last Saturday I held another volunteers day in the croft.  Within the group of volunteers were the two daughters and 15 year old grandson of the croft owner.  They just happened to be home that weekend from Wales and were delighted to be able to get the chance to work on their fathers croft again.  I had plenty of cow parsley, some iris and meadow sweet ready for them to plant into the ground.  Cow parsley does well planted into horse manure, so I was able to get some of that ready for them in bags, courtesy of my own two horses! 

As I was working away getting the plants into the ground, I could hear the volunteers laughing and chatting away as they were working.  Once we finished, 2 and a half hours later, we all had a great sense of achievement that the work was done.  We even got a kind invite from the daughters Joey and Normina, down to the local café for hot coffee.  I had to decline the invite but one of the other volunteers joined them.  The volunteer that joined them only moved here recently so it was nice to see new relationships being built because of this volunteer’s day.

At one stage, one of the daughters got quite emotional remembering days gone by when her family had worked on the croft and she was now doing the same.  We spoke about what they would have planted in the croft historically.  The girls remembered turnips being planted there and there being lots of haystacks in the croft.  It would have been lovely for them to chat to the 15 year old grandson about this as well and for him to be involved on the croft that day.  When asked about the call of the corncrake and I attempted it, Joey remembered it straight away from her childhood in the island.  The call of the corncrake stirred memories of where she came from, linking our volunteers day to her heritage and culture.  We are trying to encourage the corncrakes back to the crofts so our children can remember them in their childhoods as well. 

 One of our other volunteers on the day said “The volunteering days are always enjoyable and relaxed events particularly on Saturday 30th because of the involvement and enthusiasm of the crofter’s family”

So overall, we had a successful day creating new corncrake habitat, I hope the volunteers enjoyed themselves, I certainly did!


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Made possible with support from National Lottery Heritage Fund.