Corncrake population in Scotland ‘under threat’

A corncrake spotted in a field in Argyll. The species is under threat. Picture: Andy Hay/RSPB
A corncrake spotted in a field in Argyll. The species is under threat. Picture: Andy Hay/RSPB
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One of Scotland’s rarest breeding birds is under increasing threat of extinction after a new survey revealed a dramatic drop in numbers for the third year in a row.

The latest count of corncrakes shows a decline of 17 per cent in the past year and 33 per cent since 2014. Only 866 calling males were recorded this year, down from a high of 1,289 three years ago.

Conservationists fear the species could vanish from Scotland if nothing is done.

Paul Walton, head of habitats and species for RSPB Scotland, said: “There is a great opportunity here for the Scottish Government to take decisive positive action and work with conservation organisations in designing a future scheme, not only to help corncrakes but also to support crofters and farmers deliver as many benefits as possible for our country’s incredible wildlife.”

The corncrake nearly died out in the early 1990s, but the combined efforts of farmers, crofters and conservationists have helped to turn around its fortunes.

In 2003, there were more than 670 recorded calling male birds in Scotland, the highest number since survey work started in 1978.

Corncrakes are related to moorhens and coots, but differ from other members of the family because they live on dry land and spend most of their time hidden in tall vegetation. Once common throughout Britain, they have steadily declined in number. Today, they are mainly confined to the Hebrides, with small populations in Orkney and the extreme north and west of mainland Scotland.

Corncrakes start to arrive in Britain from late April to early May after wintering in Africa.