Corn bunting recovery work in north and east Scotland - Farmland Bird Lifeline (FBL)

The corn bunting is one of Scotland's fastest-declining birds. Around 1000 territorial males remain and several local extinctions have occurred in the last decade

Corn bunting Miliaria calandra, sitting on a branch

Overview

Eastern Scotland now holds most of the remaining Scottish population of corn bunting, but even here they are declining rapidly. A recent study shows there has been an 83 per cent decline in singing males on 25 sites in Aberdeenshire and Tayside between 1989 and 2007.
 
The combination of a late breeding season, a preference for nesting in growing crops and a seed diet centred on grains is likely to have made corn bunting populations especially vulnerable to modern agricultural practices.
 
Farmland Bird Lifeline is an RSPB initiative supported by Scottish Natural Heritage. It has been running since 2001 and has so far involved 53 farms in Inverness-shire, Aberdeenshire, Angus and Fife.
 
Management initially included a broad suite of options such as late cut set-aside, field margins, unharvested crops, over-winter cereal stubble and extensive spring cropping. Since 2005, work has focused on providing safe nesting habitats through late mown grass, extensive spring cereal cropping and unharvested crops.
 
Two new partnerships began in 2014.
 
The Angus Corn Bunting Recovery Project, runs for three years supported by the Angus Environmental Trust through ENTRUST’s Landfill Communities Fund. The partnership involves 10 farmers in Angus, who are growing specially tailored wild bird seed mixtures for corn buntings and other farm wildlife.
 
The Biodiversity Areas for Buntings and Bees Project is a partnership between Marks & Spencer, Kettle Produce, RSPB Scotland and four farmers in Fife. It involves trialling a new cereal-based seed mix containing a variety of flowering plants which is designed to benefit pollinators and a range of farmland birds.

Objectives

  • to highlight the plight of the corn bunting and demonstrate the best package of options to benefit the species during the summer and winter
  • to demonstrate how targeted management options for corn buntings can be successfully integrated into commercial operations and delivered through agri-environment schemes
  • to trial new seed mixes to expand the benefits of unharvested crops to pollinators as well as farmland birds

 

Planned Work

We are currently expanding our advisory efforts to cover a greater proportion of the corn bunting range. We hope to move closer to hitting 75 per cent of the population with targeted advice over the coming years

Results

Recently-completed RSPB research has shown this targeted agri-environment approach can reverse corn bunting declines in eastern Scotland. 
 
A seven-year monitoring study of 71 farms, measured corn bunting responses to two conservation schemes - the Scottish Government’s Rural Stewardship Scheme (RSS), which supports general conservation management for farmland birds, and the Farmland Bird Lifeline scheme (FBL). 
 
On farms in the FBL, corn bunting numbers increased by 5.6 per cent per annum. In contrast, numbers showed no significant change on farms in RSS and declined by 14.5 per cent per annum on farms outside both schemes.
 
In arable-dominated areas, increasing food availability using options such as unharvested crops, reversed population declines.
 
However, in mixed farmland where many corn buntings nested in grass fields, financial support for delayed mowing was required. 
 
Overall, the results suggest three-quarters of the corn bunting population in mainland Scotland must receive highly-targeted measures to halt declines. 
 
In 2009, only a quarter of the population was targeted in this way. Provision to the required level will need 5-6 square kilometres under appropriate management, at a cost of approximately £120,000 per annum.
 
During 2014 there were:
 
  • 63 territories recorded on 12 farms in Angus and Fife, compared with 77 in 2013
  • 113 territories recorded on six sites in Aberdeenshire, compared with 103 in 2013 (61 per cent of territories on two study farms centred on late-cut grass, specifically managed for corn buntings).

Intensive monitoring in Angus and Fife revealed:
 
  • 48 per cent of territorial males associated with spring barley followed by 26 per cent with winter cereal, 15.6 per cent with brassicas and vegetables (including potatoes and peas), 4 per cent with grassland, 3.6 per cent with Farmland Bird Lifeline (FBL) cover crops, 2 per cent with rough ground and 0.8 per cent with oilseed rape
  • The number of males associating with FBL crops was disproportionately large considering the small area occupied by these habitats.
We would like to thank all the farmers and land managers for their continued support and involvement.

Partners

Scottish Natural Heritage, Biodiversity Action Grant Scheme supported by the Scottish Government 
Angus Environmental Trust, Landfill Community Fund 
Marks and Spencer, Farming for the Future Innovation Fund 
Kettle Produce

Funding

We would like to thank Scottish Natural Heritage and other funding bodies for providing financial assistance.

Contacts

Coast on a stormy day

Hywel Maggs

Senior Conservation Officer, North East Scotland

hywel.maggs@rspb.org.uk

Further reading

Tagged with: Country: Scotland Habitat: Farmland Species: Corn bunting Project status: Project types: Advocacy Project types: Species protection