In this blog, we explain about how RSPB Scotland staff are working with farmers and crofters through the National Lottery Heritage Funded Corncrake Calling project to increase the area that is positively managed for the species. Creating more land well managed for Corncrake has been shown to have wider benefits for a host of other species including plants, bumblebees and beetles.

Just before Christmas, RSPB Scotland released the results of the 2021 Corncrake Surveys which highlighted the continued worrying decline in numbers in Scotland. Unfortunately, despite the support of many farmers and crofters our counts from the Scottish core range recorded 30% fewer birds in 2021 than the record year in 2014. This decline was not universal with some areas including the Uists and Lewis bucking the trend with increased numbers recorded in 2021.

The results from the surveys re-enforced the reason why there was such an urgent need for more action focused on the species with RSPB Scotland successfully submitting a funding bid to the National Lottery Heritage Fund to part-fund the “Corncrake Calling project.

Corncrake Calling started in September 2020, includes three key components focused on a) working with farmers and crofters to increase the area under positive land management, b) engaging and educating the public about the species and the vital role that farming plays in its survival and c) advocating that future rural development policies provide better support farmers and crofters who farm in a nature and climate friendly way.   

For the remainder of this article, I will concentrate on the first of these components and how RSPB is supporting farmers and crofters to increase the area under positive management.

Over many years RSPB Scotland staff have worked with hundreds of farmers and crofters to increase the amount of corncrake management on their own land as well as providing support with farmland bird and ecological surveys. Management focuses on two types of action. Firstly, increasing the area of suitable tall vegetation, ensuring that sufficient tall vegetation is present in the spring and autumn and secondly in mid-summer, delaying the date of mowing and using a corncrake friendly mowing method that allow flightless chicks to escape. Our funding through Corncrake Calling has increased the number of staff who can provide advice to the farmers, crofters and their agents on these options integrating them alongside other options available through the Scottish Government’s Agri-environment and Climate Scheme (AECS).  The current round which is open until 29th April 2022 provides another opportunity to promote corncrake friendly management so hopefully by the start of next year, we will be able to build on existing management meaning even more farmers are able to help corncrake.

 Corncrake Early Cover created through AECS or other schemes supports other species

Andy Hay RSPB images

Some farmers have been unable to apply for AECS for a variety of reasons. Through Corncrake Calling we have been able to provide some alternative support mechanisms including short- and long-term management agreements and Corncrake Initiative (CI) payments. The 'CI' offers annual payments for delayed cutting or grazing of grasslands in corncrake hotspots. Land Management Agreements offer longer term solutions such as creating larger and better habitats

More than this, those Scottish communities maintain extensive livestock systems that deliver huge additional cultural and environmental benefits – and the corncrake payments in some instances have become significant in terms of the viability of these high nature value systems. RSPB researchers found that grassland management and the creation and management of early cover for corncrakes benefited a host of other species when compared to control sites. There were significant positive benefits for bumblebees (including two nationally rare species), butterflies, spiders, beetles, true bugs and it significantly increased the species richness of wild plants. Significant negative effects were found in only a couple of cases. The benefits resulted from the reduction in farmland management intensity associated with AECS. While not beneficial to all taxonomic groups these results demonstrate that, in the case of corncrakes in the UK at least, well-designed agri-environmental measures targeted at a specific species do yield wider biodiversity benefits.

To find out more about the other elements of Corncrake Calling and to sign up for further updates about the project please visit the Corncrake Calling pages.

Reference

Wilkinson, N.I., Wilson, J.D., & Anderson, G.Q.A. (2012) Agri-environment management for corncrake Crex crex delivers higher species richness and abundance across other taxonomic groups. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment155, 27–34

 

Chris Bailey

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