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Monday, 4 December, 2000, 06:21 GMT
Farming bird boost claims
Country scene
The birds have returned to the Western Isles
A return to traditional crofting methods could see a rare species of bird soon return to Scotland, it has been claimed.

Stuart Housden, the director of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Scotland, said the corncrake is on the comeback.

Figures released by the society show 591 calling males were counted this year in the core areas for the species - Orkney, the Western Isles and the Inner Hebrides.

This compares with 571 last year and just 446 in 1993 when the recovery programme was launched amid fears the species was heading for extinction in Scotland.


The crucial discovery for the birds was that numbers declined because of understandable changes in farming practice

Stuart Housden
The project has seen RSPB Scotland working with more than 200 crofters and farmers, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Scottish Crofters' Union (SCU).

Stuart Housden, director of RSPB Scotland, said: "I believe we have cracked the problem for the corncrake.

"Our understanding is such that careful management of crofts and farmland might allow these illusive birds to return to Ayrshire, Buchan, the Lothians and all of their traditional haunts across lowland Scotland - although I don't think we'll manage in central Edinburgh now that it's been built over."

He added: "The crucial discovery for the birds was that numbers declined because of understandable changes in farming practice.

"For good reasons crofters and farmers ploughed closer to their field margins and advancing technology allowed them to cut crop, especially hay and silage, earlier in the season.

Corncrake
The corncrake is a shy bird
"The corncrake is a very shy bird and depends on areas of good ground cover for breeding when it arrives in Scotland in the spring after wintering in Africa.

"Its chicks need plenty of long grass cover and the associated insects to grow strong enough for the return to Africa for the warm winter months."

He said the recovery was due to crofters and farmers reintroducing more traditional crofting methods.

And he said SNH and SCU had given strong support for management agreements, comprising payments for moves such as the delay of mowing, reached between RSPB Scotland and the farmers and crofters.

Funding call

Mr Housden added: "By comparing different types of management in different areas we are now confident that we can expand the birds' range once more."

The RSPB Scotland now wants schemes such as the Corncrake Recovery Programme included within the Scottish Executive's agri-environmental programmes and for such schemes to be better funded.

It argues farmers and crofters should be paid for environmental work such as the protection of corncrakes.

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See also:

07 Feb 00 | Sci/Tech
Mixed fortunes for UK birds
28 Jan 00 | Sci/Tech
'Grim future' for Europe's wildlife
12 Aug 99 | Sci/Tech
Farmland birds in crisis
29 Dec 98 | Sci/Tech
Help for threatened habitats
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