RSPB ‘gravely concerned’ at decline of corn bunting

Corn Bunting (Miliaria calandra), Balranald nature reserve, North Uist, Scotland.
Corn Bunting (Miliaria calandra), Balranald nature reserve, North Uist, Scotland.

RSPB Scotland has announced that it is gravely concerned over the future of the corn bunting in the Western Isles.

RSPB manager Jamie Boyle said: “The results of this year’s survey make very sobering reading. For the first time ever spring-time in the machair of Barra and Vatersay has been marked without the distinctive rattling song of the corn bunting.

“Since time immemorial this wee brown bird has been a familiar sight and sound to crofters going about their business. We are gravely concerned that this may not be the case in the future.”

He continued: “In just one year, the number of calling males has gone down from eighty birds to just fifty. As well as the loss of birds in Barra we are down to a single territorial male in Benbecula.

“The northern part of South Uist is likewise almost devoid of birds. This leaves parts of North Uist and the southern part of South Uist as the last remaining strongholds in the Western Isles. However it is a very vulnerable population.”

Corn buntings occur on the islands due to crofting, particularly cultivation of cereals which provide them with food over the winter. The change from traditional cultivation techniques to big bale silage has deprived them of the once plentiful winter food source.

Mr Boyle confirmed that the RSPB has been concerned about the corn bunting for some time. “This decline has occurred despite intensive conservation efforts over several years to reverse the trend,” he said. “This has included the arable stacks scheme and provision of seed as winter food for the birds. We now propose to take emergency action to stabilise the population with a concentration of effort to be made in the remaining population ‘hot spots’.

“The loss of such a characteristic bird would not be just a loss of wildlife. It would also be a cultural loss. People in the Uists have always valued the distinctive wildlife which shares a home with them. We would all be the poorer without them.”