Last modified: 09 December 2015
Image: Steve Round
RSPB Scotland hosted a celebration event in Aberdeenshire last Friday to thank farmers for their contribution to trying to save an iconic Scottish bird from extinction.
The corn bunting was once widespread but following rapid declines there have been several local extinctions during the last decade and now just 800 or so pairs remain in Scotland. These are mostly in east Scotland which is home to 95% of Scotland’s corn buntings.
Even in their east Scotland strongholds corn buntings suffered huge declines during the 1990s and 2000s (for example, by 83% across a sample of 30 sites). The combination of a late breeding season, a preference for nesting in growing crops and a seed diet centred on grains along with insects fed to chicks makes corn buntings especially vulnerable to modern agricultural practices.
However, farmers across Aberdeenshire and Moray are helping to change the fortunes of these iconic birds. Over the last 14 years, approximately 70 local farmers have worked with RSPB Scotland to monitor the number of corn buntings on their farms and conduct research about the best ways to help them.
This year RSPB Scotland, supported by SNH, resurveyed 48 farms across the two counties to see how the numbers of corn buntings and other farmland birds had changed over the last few years and whether changes could be attributed to a farm’s involvement in agri-environment schemes designed to benefit corn buntings.
Seventeen members of the local farming community met in Maud last week to hear an update about this year’s results from Allan Perkins, a Senior Conservation Scientist with the RSPB, who said: “This summer’s surveys showed that corn bunting numbers have remained stable since 2008, which is fantastic news. The event aimed to recognise the efforts made by farmers to improve the future of corn buntings in northeast Scotland. We wanted to thank them for their involvement in the research and monitoring that is so critical to discovering how together we can ensure corn buntings continue to be part of Scotland’s farmland bird community.”
There was also an opportunity at the event to discuss the Agri Environment Climate Scheme (AECS) options and application process as well as greening measures. Lunch was provided and it gave the farmers an opportunity to talk to others involved in the project.
Elaine Booth attended the event on behalf of Ednie Farms. She said: ‘’We enjoy seeing wildlife around the farm and feel it is important that land management is carried out that supports this. Ensuring business and wildlife sustainability co-exist is vital. We are pleased to be involved in RSPB Scotland’s corn bunting project work along with many other Aberdeenshire farmers. The survey results and feedback from this have been interesting and it’s rewarding to learn that agri-environment management has the potential to recover some priority farmland bird populations. The Maud event was a good opportunity for an update on this and to learn more about the new wildlife support scheme for farmers.’’
This summer, a total of 246 corn bunting territories were recorded over the 48 farms compared to 232 in 2009. More detailed analysis is underway to investigate how local changes relate to farmers’ participation in agri-environment schemes.
Yvonne Stephan, RSPB Scotland’s Corn Bunting Officer adds: “Planting just 1-2 hectares of wild bird seed mix per 100 hectares of land appears to benefit corn buntings, so it is possible for farmers to make a big difference. Funding is available through AECS for targeted management for corn buntings and there are greening measures that can help too. I encourage anyone who would like to know more or get advice to get in touch with me.”
You can contact Yvonne by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling the Aberdeen office on 01224 624824.