THE YEAR 2020 marks 10 years of conservationists, crofters and farmers coming together to support the corncrake.

The corncrake is a small, migratory bird that spends its winters in Central and Western Africa and its summers in Northern Europe, but since 1950 the rate of decline in Scotland has accelerated, coinciding with a period when the majority of hay fields were changed to silage production.

Skye crofters, farmers, the RSPB and SAC Consulting are celebrating 10 years of a collaborative partnership to help secure a future for the island’s corncrake population, which has been on the red endangered list since 1990 with a recorded population of 872 in 2019.

The partnership, also involving NFU Scotland and the Scottish Crofting Federation, provided greater support for land managers to access agri-environment schemes and to improve the island’s corncrake population on a landscape scale.

SAC Consulting's Janette Sutherland, who facilitates the partnership, said: "The support to crofters and farmers through agri-environment schemes over the past 25 years has been key to the survival of the UK corncrake population and it is critical that we maintain and build on this hard work.

“To protect corncrakes, we need crofters and farmers to implement the measures on the ground, and part of SAC Consulting’s role is to highlight what practical methods and management techniques they can employ to benefit the species.

“Unfortunately, the number of corncrakes is dropping across the board and although researchers are exploring some theories, it is unclear what is driving the losses," said Ms Sutherland. "With such a small population, working in partnership is all vitally important to their future survival.”

Currently there are 140-hectares under management on the Isle of Skye as part of the Scottish Government’s Agri Environment Climate Scheme which provided funding to crofters and farmers to manage their silage and grazed fields differently to support corncrakes.

Ms Sutherland explained: “There are practical methods that can be used on ‘high nature value’ landscapes to benefit the species, such as delayed mowing, corncrake friendly mowing and leaving uncut areas of grassland on field margins to provide cover for birds; curtailing grazing to preserve areas of tall vegetation in spring and summer, allowing birds to nest and raise broods; and, establishing clumps of tall plants such as iris, nettles, meadowsweet, cow parsley or hogweed.”

RSPB corncrake officer, Shelagh Parlane, added that the endangered species is notoriously shy and likes tall vegetation: "That’s why we encourage crofters and farmers to create areas of early growing vegetation, so the birds have somewhere to hide when they come back to the islands in early spring," she said. “The environment, nature, and local agricultural businesses are interdependent; successful and thriving agricultural systems can provide and support a rich diversity of species which is to the benefit of all of us. Corncrakes rely on crofting and farming and, with a small number of adjustments that can be compensated for through agri-environment schemes, it is possible for both to thrive.

“We look forward to the partnership playing a role in the Corncrake Calling Project, which has been funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, over the next few years.”