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Agri-environment consultation opens opportunity for rare Scottish bird

Last modified: 12 December 2013

Close-up of singing corncrake

New figures reveal 23% decline in the number of singing males in 2013, compared with last year.

Image: Nigel Blake

Conservationists are warning that the fortunes of one of Scotland’s rarest breeding birds could hang in the balance as a Scottish Government consultation into the amount of funding available for agri-environment schemes opens this week.

The warning comes as the 2013 counts of corncrakes, an elusive farmland bird that winters in Africa and spends the summer in Scotland, revealed a 23% decline in the number of singing males present, compared with last year.

Although the coldest spring on record is thought to have contributed to the recent decline, the drop in numbers demonstrates the precarious and vulnerable nature of the species, and how important agri-environment support is to help maintain a healthy population. The cold weather delayed the growth of the tall grass meadows that form the essential habitat for the corncrakes on their breeding grounds, shortening the breeding season and allowing time for just one brood. 

Once widespread throughout Scotland, corncrakes suffered severe declines in the previous century due to changes in farming techniques, such as more intensive management of grasslands, The introduction of agri-environment schemes in the 1990s were critical in reversing this historical decline by supporting crofters and farmers who manage their land for the species.

Agri-environment schemes are paid for out of Common Agricultural Policy funds – but still receive only a small share of the total pot of money. The Scottish Government now has the option to allocate Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) funds in a different way that allows for an increase in funding for agri-environment schemes. 

The wildlife conservation charity is calling on the Scottish Government to make this important decision and  transfer the full amount of funds possible, a total of 15% or around £85 million per annum, from Pillar 1 (general farm support) to Pillar 2 (agri-environment and rural development schemes).  This would allow the growth and expansion of agri-environment schemes and help declining farmland species such as corncrake, corn bunting, great yellow bumblebee and rare wild flowers.

Vicki Swales, RSPB Scotland Head of Land Use Policy said: “Corncrakes are one of Scotland’s great conservation success stories. The species has been brought back from near extinction thanks to the work of farmers, crofters and conservationists and those all important agri-environment schemes.  It is vital that we continue this success story and help corncrakes to bounce back after difficult breeding seasons. Making sure there are good nesting sites and plentiful food for adults and chicks within the farmed landscape will give the Scottish corncrake the best possible chance of long-term  survival,

“We are calling on the Scottish Government to transfer the full 15% of CAP funds to support those nature-friendly farmers and crofters and ensure Scotland’s countryside is a welcoming home for both wildlife and farming. “

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