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Durness Corncrake and Great Yellow Bumblebee Recovery Area

Pair of corncrakes among horsetails, Tiree, Scotland

Corncrakes still have a foothold in Durness thanks to habitat protection

Durness, in the far north-west of Scotland, is the last mainland UK location where corncrakes have an unbroken breeding record. 

They require a mosaic of habitats with long vegetation for breeding, and benefit from the High Nature Value Farming (HNVF) practices of low-intensity cropping, grassland production and stock-rearing in the area. 

Other species to benefit, include twite and the rare great yellow bumblebee, which find food in the abundance of wildflowers that these traditional extensive farming practices encourage. In addition, the rare Scottish primrose can be found next to mountain avens where the coastal grassland strip meets the limestone extrusions. 

Retaining these farming systems and the wildlife they support requires collaboration between crofting groups, farmers, conservation organisations and statutory bodies. The challenge is to match the needs of the habitats on the site with the resources and requirements of land managers, particularly with respect to grazing management.

For several years, RSPB Scotland has been working with the two farms and various crofters in the area to promote the continuation of best practice management for corncrakes, other important wildlife and soil health. In addition, we assist with drawing up management plans and securing funding for best practice management.

Project objectives

  • To work closely with the two farms and various crofters to increase the breeding corncrake, great yellow bumblebee and wintering passerine populations through the positive management of grassland, early/late cover, extensive arable and integrated mosaics of semi-natural habitats within the Durness recovery area.
  • To enhance the condition of the unusual nationally important combination of coastal and upland habitats that exist there
  • To enhance the individual crofts to maximise their income and wildlife potential
  • To work with partner organisations to use the recovery area as a demonstration site promoting best practice High Nature Value farming.

Work planned or underway

Current work is focused on enhancing habitats in agri-environment agreements beyond option requirements. 

We are concentrating on the creation of early/late cover and improving associated grassland habitats to favour corncrake and the great-yellow bumblebee. 

On grasslands, we have undertaken soil analysis and facilitated bulk purchase, delivery and application of seed and inorganic nutrients. 

We have invested in machinery to improve grassland, re-locate early cover species and to facilitate the application of organic manures. 

We are monitoring habitat change and calling male corncrakes and keep incidental records of great yellow bumblebees and other important species. 

We have facilitated joint best practice demonstration events on site and promoted HNVF nationally in the press. We intend to build on all of the above.

Results

We have had a 100 per cent success rate in facilitating entry into the Scottish Rural Development Programme, and assisted five individual crofters and a sheep-stock club comprising of 39 shareholders with their applications. 

The largest project has secured funding for environmental benefits over 10,800 hectares of land, not only covering corncrake habitat but the management of nationally important habitats such as Dryas heath, species-rich grasslands, sand dune communities, peatland and valley mires. 

Large areas of this site are designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest and we are working closely with Scottish Natural Heritage and other specialist bodies to ensure the successful delivery of the various outcomes such as specialist grazing plans. 

The project has created additional employment, helped retain 2.5 local jobs and supported crofting activities whilst delivering enhanced management for wildlife in a key location.

Numbers of corncrakes have been maintained to date in Durness at around ten calling males. Both calling males and broods have been observed in the newly created habitats which continue to improve and expand in area whilst sightings of great yellow bumblebee have also increased. Corncrakes have re-appeared in sites adjacent to the Durness Recovery area after several years of absence.

Who to contact

Kate Clarke
Conservation Adviser
E-mail: kate.clarke@rspb.org.uk

Partners

  • The farms and various crofting individuals in Durness, Sutherland
  • Scottish Natural Heritage
  • SGRPID
  • SAC Consulting
  • The Highland Council Ranger Service
  • Soil Association Scotland
  • The Bumblebee Conservation Trust
  • Plantlife Scotland
  • The various individuals, professional and volunteers, who share our aspirations and contribute as required.

Funding

The project helps to access SRDP funding for crofters and farmers.