Uist crofting

The machair habitats and crofting systems of the Uists support one of the highest densities of breeding waders in the world.

Corncrake, Crex crex at Oronsay RSPB reserve, Argyll, Scotland.


The Uists are one of the last places in the UK to retain low-input, traditional farming systems. They support the typical suite of farmland bird species in high densities, in addition to rarities such as corncrake, corn bunting and the great yellow bumblebee. Fundamental to ensuring their survival is accessing support for and highlighting the importance of crofting, which provides the habitats on which they depend.
In partnership, the RSPB has been working with crofters on the Uists for more than two decades. In the 1990s, the work focused on modifying changes to agricultural practices, which had led to dramatic declines in the corncrake population. The work was extremely successful and current projects have built on it to encompass all species and habitats of importance. However, many species still face threats and this project aims to ensure that solutions are found and delivered on a large enough scale to support strong wildlife populations. 
Land management and advisory initiatives are a key mechanism for delivery, requiring specialist staff and partnership work. 


  • To foster a collaboration between conservationists, agriculturalists and land managers to produce high-quality agri-environment plans
  • To secure land management agreements for the benefit of key species and habitats
  • To raise awareness of the importance of species and habitats associated with low-input farming and crofting systems
  • To work with partners on associated projects such as crop protection and introduced mammal control schemes
  • To monitor populations of key species: corncrake, corn bunting and breeding waders
  • To collaborate on research to identify causes of species decline and trial management methods to aid population recovery



  • 1990s - recovery of the corncrake population to more than 300 calling males
  • 1990s to current - establishment of species monitoring programme, including corncrake, corn bunting and breeding waders
  • 2000s - establishment of a programme of land management agreements, currently standing at more than 90 agreements (including Machair LIFE project agreements)
  • 2009 to current - submission of more than 45 agri-environment plans for key species and habitats, and collaboration with SAC Consulting (Scotland's Rural College) on a further 25 plans
  • 2010 - establishment of Machair LIFE project
  • In 2011 there were 33 management agreements established with crofters and management on 2 square kilometres of land
  • Ongoing - series of educational and training events such as the corncrake festival, and design a corn bunting tea towel competition for schools
  • Ongoing - collaboration in crop protection and introduced mammal schemes

Planned Work

The project will continue to operate a programme of species monitoring, land management agreements and advisory support. In addition, staff are participating in the development of the next agri-environment scheme due to be rolled out in 2014. Once this scheme is up and running, the emphasis of the project will revert to ensuring that high quality agri-environment plans are taken up on a large scale in the Uists.
To assist this aim, a more formal partnership, Western Isles Crofting for Wildlife, is being established. This will cover Lewis and Harris in addition to the Uists. Key partners will include RSPB Scotland, Scotland’s Rural College (SAC Consulting), the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and other interested parties.
In addition, the Machair LIFE project has contracted the Scottish Agricultural College to carry out analysis on crop growth in relation to organic and inorganic fertiliser application and timing of harvesting. A Machair LIFE project film has been made.
Over the last two decades, through land management initiatives with crofters, the project has ensured the recovery of the breeding corncrake population on the Uists. In addition, in recent years, more than 70 land management agreements and a further 70 agri-environment plans have been put in place to provide the best possible habitat for all key species on the Uists.
Actions these deliver include the delayed mowing of corncrake grasslands; building corn stacks to provide winter food for corn bunting; supporting the use of seaweed as a fertiliser on cropped machair; and devising grazing regimes that protect breeding waders and/or encourage the development of flower rich habitats. In addition, a successful crop protection scheme is underway.


Coast on a stormy day

Jamie Boyle

Site Manager, Uist Reserves


Further reading

Tagged with: Country: Scotland Habitat: Farmland Habitat: Grassland Habitat: Wetland Project status: Project types: Education Project types: Site protection Project types: Species protection