Page last updated at 23:34 GMT, Friday, 17 July 2009 00:34 UK

Huge drop in corn bunting numbers

Corn bunting (Pic: RSPB Images)
The RSPB said action was needed to save the corn bunting

Conservationists have called for more work to be done to save a once common farm bird whose numbers have declined by an estimated 83%.

A new study has revealed intensive farming methods over the last 20 years have left only 800 corn bunting territories remaining in Scotland.

RSPB Scotland said of 30 sites once populated by the bird, only four still showed traces of corn buntings.

The bird is most likely to be found in Aberdeenshire, Angus and the Uists.

Results of the study, published in Bird Study, the journal of the British Trust for Ornithology, showed dramatic declines in the bird's numbers across Aberdeenshire and Angus.

Dr Adam Watson, who led the study together with RSPB Scotland scientists, said: "Although it has been interesting to follow their numbers on the 30 areas, the huge decline has saddened and worried me.

"Many areas that held singing birds in the early years are now silent, as one local population after another went extinct.

"However, all is not yet lost and the government must urgently extend the targeted initiatives which have reversed declines on some farms, including one of my study areas."

'Real encouragement'

In 2002, the Scottish Government, Scottish Natural Heritage and the RSPB began paying crofters up to £300 to gather barley in a sheaf and stack it in stooks.

The method makes it easier for the corn bunting, also known as the fat bird of the barley because of its reliance on the crop for food, to eat.

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

The RSPB said since 2006 there has been a lack of money from the Scottish Government for such schemes.

Professor Des Thompson, policy and advice manager at Scottish Natural Heritage, said: "The decline of such a fascinating and popular bird is shocking.

"We now seem to have more corncrakes than corn buntings in Scotland.

"We know what is happening, and why. We urgently need to find a way of offering real encouragement for the provision of habitats for these birds."

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