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Is the Corncrake making a come back?

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PostPosted: Tue May 12, 2009 8:23 am    Post subject: Is the Corncrake making a come back?  Reply with quote

A rare migratory bird that has experienced a dramatic recovery in its fortunes thanks to dedicated conservation work is to be the subject of a UK survey to see if it is now spreading from its core areas in the west of Scotland.

Corncrakes have begun to return to the UK – after spending the winter in Africa - and the public will be able to call in on special hotline numbers to submit their records of the species to the National Corncrake Survey.

Once common and widely distributed across the whole of the UK, the species underwent extremely steep declines in the 19th and 20th centuries due to changes in traditional farming practices and agricultural intensification.

In south Wales the corncrake was a rare bird by 1938 with no records of breeding received, however a robust population existed in north Wales and a stronghold remained on Anglesey and Llyn until the mid-1950s (10).

The corncrake – a relative of the more widespread coot and moorhen – is a long-distance migrant wintering in sub-Saharan Africa and returning to the UK in summer to breed. When nesting, the birds favour areas of tall grasses and herbs, particularly hay and silage meadows. However, in the late 19th century when mechanised mowing allowed hay making to be completed more rapidly, the corncrake population plummeted and became restricted to the Hebridean islands on the west coast of Scotland.

More recently, through the combined efforts of farmers and conservationists, the UK corncrake population has seen an encouraging overall population increase in its Scottish strongholds, especially since the launch in 1993 of the RSPB's corncrake recovery programme.

In 1993, the British population was estimated at just 480 calling males. But by the last survey in 2003 this figure had almost doubled to 832 calling males.  Annual counts have shown the population continued to increase until 2007, when the population in the Scottish strongholds hit a recent high of more than 1270 calling males.  However, in 2008 this number had declined by eight per cent to 1140 in the Scottish core areas, highlighting there should be no complacency surrounding the recovery of this bird.

In 2002 a reintroduction scheme sought to return the corncrake to England, on the Nene Washes near Peterborough. Last year, the project had its greatest success when it recorded 14 calling male corncrakes. The partnership project includes Natural England, the RSPB, the Zoological Society of London, and Pensthorpe Conservation Trust.  Already six males have returned to the area this year, leading project partners to believe the project may be heading for another record.

During the 1980s and early 1990s the corncrake has been no more than a very rare passage migrant in Wales, mainly in spring stopping over from sub-Saharan Africa on its way to its breeding sites in Ireland and northern Scotland.

The National Corncrake Survey hopes to establish whether the recovery of corncrake in Britain continues into 2009, and to establish whether the slight decline of 2008 was a temporary 'blip', or if it was part of a more sustained pattern.  It also presents a good opportunity to examine whether the species has managed to extend its range beyond the main core areas of the Hebridean islands, into Wales.

Dr Tim Stowe, RSPB Cymru Director, said: “This is the first full survey since 2003 and numbers have undoubtedly increased since then, but we are really interested in seeing if last year’s slight slump in numbers was just an anomaly in what has been an otherwise fabulous success story for this species.”

However, corncrakes are a very difficult species to survey, because they are shy, skulk in long vegetation and are very difficult to see.  The best method to identify corncrakes is by listening for the  distinctive crek crek call given by singing males, which sounds like a credit card being drawn across a plastic comb.  The birds are particularly vocal throughout June, especially during the night.  Because of the difficulty of surveying corncrakes, the RSPB is asking anyone who hears the distinctive call of the birds to report it so that it can be verified and recorded as part of the survey.

The Corncrake Survey is a combined initiative between Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the RSPB.
Anyone who hears a corncrake calling is urged to call:
RSPB (England and Wales) - 01767 680551
RSPB (Scotland) - 0131 311 6500
RSPB (Northern Ireland) - 028 9049 1547

1)       According to the Historical Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland 1875 – 1900, “the decline of the corncrake in Britain and Ireland has been more dramatic than that of any other bird species since the late 19th century. During the last quarter of that century, the corncrake bred in every county of Britain and Ireland including all but the most exposed islands.

2)       Corncrakes were found in tall grass and herbs, particularly in hay meadows. Towards the end of the 19th century some writers started to note that numbers were decreasing. Although it was recognised that numbers varied from year to year these writers linked a slight decline to the increase in the mechanisation of mowing.

3)       These negative influences continued throughout the 20th century, in particular the introduction of tractors to replace horses, and other mechanical innovations, allowed hay making to be completed in a much shorter time, so that the proportion of hay meadows mowed during the most vulnerable part of the corncrakes breeding season increased.

4)       By 1972 the corncrake had disappeared from most of the mainland of Britain, and population declines continued except in the Scottish islands of Lewis, Coll, the Uists and Tiree, where the persistence of suitable hay meadow habitats and late mowing dates allow successful breeding. A small number are also clinging on in Orkney.

5)       There is a strong correlation between cattle keeping and mixed agricultural systems, combining grazing management with hay making and forage areas for arable cropping. In addition to the corncrake, these mixed farmland habitats support a diverse range of bird species, including the declining corn bunting and wading birds such as lapwing.

6)       Concerted action to help corncrakes began in 1993 with the introduction of the RSPB Scotland managed Corncrake Initiative (which was supported by SNH and the Scottish Crofting Foundation). Although this has now been superseded by agri environment schemes, the first population increases followed in the mid 1990s. The historical scheme made payments available to crofters and farmers with the birds on their land to manage their hay or silage fields sensitively for corncrakes. This worked in tandem with dedicated management on RSPB reserves. RSPB Scotland has 15 reserves and management agreement areas where corncrakes are a priority species, and these support a large proportion of the total UK population. The Society also works in partnership with many other land managers to benefit the species. In most cases the local crofters and farmers, often underpinned by a management agreement, carry out all the positive management for corncrakes.

7)       SNH runs a corncrake management scheme, which is available to crofters and farmers within areas classified as Special Protection Areas for the species in the western and northern islands of Scotland. These sites cover about 40 per cent of the British breeding population of corncrakes. SNH can make incentive payments available under their Natural Care management programme to pay for work to benefit corncrakes.

8)       Rural Development Contracts operated by SGRPID provide land management incentives for corncrakes.

9)       Corncrakes arrive in Britain from late April and early May after wintering in Africa. They begin nesting in late May and lay between eight and 12 eggs. The key to increasing the population is to create conditions that allow the females to safely rear two broods in a season. During the breeding season the corncrake is rarely seen.

10)     Birds in Wales, Roger Lovegrove, Graham Williams, Iolo Williams, 1994.

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Smooth Hound

Joined: 14 Aug 2007
Posts: 10762

Location: near turriff

PostPosted: Tue May 12, 2009 8:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

saw alot of them on coll,  its a protected area for them
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Joined: 05 Jul 2007
Posts: 307

Location: Aberdeenshire - Nae far fae Inverurie

PostPosted: Tue May 12, 2009 7:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Never seen one other than on the telly  
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Joined: 31 Aug 2013
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Location: Ireland

PostPosted: Tue Nov 05, 2013 5:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

There are quite a number on Tiree.  Its a constant battle to try and stop our cats catching them.

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