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Last Updated: Friday, 4 August 2006, 08:25 GMT 09:25 UK
Stooks 'vital' to bird's survival
Corn bunting (Pic: RSPB Images)
A corn bunting eating its favourite food
Crofters are being urged to revert to traditional farming methods to ensure the survival of a threatened wild bird.

The corn bunting is known as the fat bird of the barley because of its dependence on the crop for food.

Modern farming practices leaves slim pickings for the bird, which in Scotland is only found in the Western Isles and parts of Aberdeenshire.

For the third year running, a scheme is paying crofters to gather barley in a sheaf and stack it in stooks.

The method leaves the ears of barley or corn intact on the cut stem.

The cut crop is gathered in a sheaf which is then piled up in stacks, or stooks, and left outside.

Modern combine harvesters have led to the demise of the practice in the vast majority of UK farms.

The arable stack scheme is vital for the survival of the last island population of corn bunting in Scotland
Jamie Boyle
RSPB Scotland

Crofters are being offered payments of either 200 or 300, depending on what they do with the seed stacks.

Corn buntings feed from the stooks and also pick on loose grains that fall to the ground.

The Scottish Crofting Foundation (SCF), which is working with RSPB Scotland on the initiative, said the birds were suffering a drastic decline in numbers.

RSPB Scotland class the bird as a threatened species.

It said the project was aimed at encouraging crofters to stook part of their crop, especially in the Uists, Barra and Vatersay in the Western Isles.

The practice takes longer than harvesting with modern machinery and also attracts geese, which are blamed for consuming large amounts of crop.

Traditional harvesting in the Western Isles (Pic: RSPB Images)
Traditional harvesting in the Western Isles

Ena MacDonald, SCF director, said: "Crofters throughout the Uists and Barra took part in this initiative last year and it is excellent to see it continue this year.

"We are urging crofters to think well ahead before deciding to silage the corn and try to save some from the geese in order to secure it traditionally in corn stacks.

"This will provide a valuable feed source for the little corn bunting."

Jamie Boyle, reserve manager for RSPB Scotland in North Uist, added: "The arable stack scheme is vital for the survival of the last island population of corn bunting in Scotland."

The initiative is supported by the Scottish Executive Biodiversity Action Grants Scheme and Scottish Natural Heritage.

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