Posted on behalf of Yvonne Stephan, Conservation Advisor, East Scotland

Over the last couple of years, RSPB Scotland have been involved to various degrees in numerous applications to the Agri-Environment and Climate Scheme (AECS). We provided information to farmers and consultants, advice on various AECS options and the needs of a range of species, assisted with farm environment assessments and worked directly with farmers who wanted to compile their own agri-environment plans. We were very pleased to learn that two applications we’ve been working on with very committed farmers were successful.

Corn bunting. Image: Alex Shepherd

The schemes were tailored at the needs of corn buntings, a farmland bird which has declined steeply over the last decades, but which is known to react positively to well-targeted management through agri-environment schemes.

One of the successful farms holds approximately 8% of the Scottish corn bunting population, which accounts for one of (if not the) highest densities recorded in the UK. In combination with some corn bunting focussed greening measures, this scheme will provide around 35 hectares of high quality habitat for corn buntings and other farmland birds.

Image: Yvonne Stephan

Another farm, from which corn buntings had previously disappeared, was able to attract the birds back by carrying out corn bunting management through greening. Encouraged by the success, the farmer submitted an application and the very comprehensive scheme was granted.

Both schemes will not only be of huge benefit to corn buntings and other birds such as grey partridges, yellowhammers and linnets but also form a valuable, additional income stream to supplement the main farming businesses.

Schemes were designed to provide the “Big Three” for farmland birds (safe nesting habitats, winter seed food and summer insect food) on the one hand, and to reduce water pollution, improve soil quality and reduce soil erosion on the other hand.

Options included: 

  • Unharvested conservation headlands for wildlife
  • Wild bird seed for farmland birds
  • Forage brassica crops for farmland birds
  • Stubbles followed by green manure in an arable rotation
  • Retention of winter stubbles for wildlife and water quality
  • Grass strips in arable fields
  • Water margins in arable fields

Image: Yvonne Stephan

These and other schemes will make a real contribution to the corn bunting recovery work in East Scotland and we would like to thank all of the many farmers, land managers and estates who are helping corn buntings through greening, AECS or through voluntary action. Thanks to their commitment, corn bunting numbers have stabilised and, in some areas, are even increasing. This is fantastic news and shows what can be achieved wherever people join forces.