Charlotte Mackenzie, Communications and Youth Officer at RSPB Scotland, fills us in on a great community project taking place in Durness.

Corncrake and cake!

One of my earliest memories is being given some paints by my granny so my passion for art must have started at a very young age!  I was then given every encouragement by my mum and one of those teachers who just helps whisks you along the path that you know you need to follow.  So, one of the things I most love about my job is being able to give that wee bit back and provide the spark for the next generation, and when it combines with a great message then so much the better!

Right up in the far north-west is the wee village of Durness and here is the last stronghold on the UK mainland of the corncrake.  We’ve worked very closely for many years with the crofters here to try to make conditions as good as they can be for the birds and this includes working with the local primary school.  On a visit in June, eleven pupils produced some amazing artwork whilst learning more about one of Scotland’s most threatened birds.  I took their pictures back to Inverness and made up designs incorporating the artwork and got them printed onto cotton bags and tea towels.     

Roll on a few months and the day dawned for a special celebration in the warm and welcoming Durness village hall which even sleety November showers couldn’t dampen.  The bags and towels were handed out to much admiration and there were some great discussion about the importance of corncrake conservation around the engaging display materials.  The cups of tea and absolutely scrumptious homebaking were a big hit too!

Durness is the last place on the UK mainland where corncrakes have an unbroken breeding record. Their other strongholds are the Hebridean islands and Orkney. Corncrakes were once common throughout Britain but the population was pushed back to these areas due to ever increasing agricultural intensification, particularly in the 1970s. Corncrakes need the land to be managed in a sympathetic way, which includes having plants that grow early on in the season such as nettles and cow parsley and silage fields to be cut later in the season in a corncrake friendly manner. We are working hard with local crofters so that they can do just that. It was fantastic to see such a great turn out - events such as this can only help to make our partnership even stronger and more successful.