Farmers in Fife and Angus are heralded as saviours of one of Scotland’s fastest declining birds

Kirsty Nutt

Thursday 22 December 2016

Actions by farmers are responsible for improved fortunes of corn buntings

Winter seed food and other management deployed on a number of farms and estates in Angus and Fife as part of Corn Bunting Recovery Project have changed the fortunes of this iconic species.

The survey work earlier this year saw the highest increase in corn bunting numbers in Fife in any single year since monitoring began: between 2015 and 2016, the number of territories increased by 18%, from 62 to 73 on participating farms.

Birds had also recolonised areas, where they hadn't been seen in years. This first local range expansion in the East Neuk is very encouraging and gives hope that the species may start to spread once again.

The expansion came after the East Neuk Estates Group, comprising of six estates, made a collective commitment to support the recovery of the local corn bunting population, doubling the area of wild bird seed mix plots in an instant. Edward Baxter, a member of the East Neuk Estates Group, was delighted to hear the news. He said: "This year's large increase in corn bunting numbers and the range expansion shows the positive effect of collaboration over a wider area through the involvement of large estates."

Corn buntings in Angus can also look forward to a good 2017 as all corn buntings in that county will have access to the 'Big Three': safe nesting spaces, winter seed food and summer insect food for the chicks within one mile of their breeding territories from next year onwards.

Neil McEwan is the latest farmer to join the Corn bunting Recovery Project in Angus. He said: "We are very happy to start working alongside the RSPB Scotland and other local farmers by filling in the last food gap for the corn bunting in Angus. These birds were in rapid decrease in the area but thanks to all the corn bunting management in the region as well as Yvonne and her team and we have seen them stabilise."

This good news comes after decades of dramatic declines for the UK corn bunting population. In Eastern Scotland numbers fell by 83% between 1989 and 2007, earning them the unfortunate accolade of being one of the fastest declining birds in Scotland.

Farmers and land managers are using a combination of agri-environment scheme options, voluntary action and upgraded greening measures to help make the future of this iconic bird in Scotland more secure. 34 farms as well as the East Neuk Estates Group are currently involved in the Corn Bunting Recovery Project in two of the last corn bunting strongholds.

RSPB Scotland is delighted that The Links Trust as well as the Kingsbarns and Fairmont golf courses have also joined the project as new partners and hopes even more farmers, land owners and other partners will get on board in 2017 to ensure a sustainable recovery of the species.

Yvonne Stephan is a Conservation Advisor for RSPB Scotland and helps run the Corn Bunting Recovery Project. She said: "I am delighted about the positive developments for corn buntings and am constantly astounded by the enthusiasm and passion of the wonderful people that work on this project. Without their hard work and generosity in going above and beyond, corn buntings would have a bleak future. It just shows what we can achieve working together with farmers, estates and other partners and what an immense difference it can make whenever people join forces."

The work of farmers, land managers and estates was recognised when they were nominated and then shortlisted for the Nature of Scotland awards in the highly competitive Food & Farming category and earlier in 2016, one of the corn bunting farmers in Fife won the M&S Farming for the Future award.

Yvonne added: "The future for corn buntings in Scotland is looking better all the time, but none of it would be possible without the help and commitment of the local farmers and estates and the support of our partners and funders Kettle Produce, Marks and Spencer, Angus Environment Trust, Fife Environmental Trust and Scottish Natural Heritage. I would like to say thank you to all of them! It's exciting times for everybody who likes corn buntings and I am looking forward to 2017, which I hope will be another really good year for those lovely birds."

Tagged with: Topic: Farming Topic: Species conservation