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RSPB Scotland says thanks to farmers in Fife

Last modified: 09 December 2015

Corn bunting perched in oilseed rape

Image: Nigel Blake

RSPB Scotland hosted a celebration event in Fife today (9 December) to thank farmers for their contribution to trying to save an iconic Scottish bird from extinction.

The corn bunting was once widespread but following rapid declines there have been several local extinctions during the last decade and now just 800 or so pairs remain in Scotland. These are mostly in east Scotland which is home to 95% of Scotland’s corn buntings.

Even in their east Scotland strongholds corn buntings suffered huge declines during the 1990s and 2000s (for example, by 83% across a sample of 30 sites). The combination of a late breeding season, a preference for nesting in growing crops and a seed diet centred on grains along with insects fed to chicks makes corn buntings especially vulnerable to modern agricultural practices.

However, farmers in Fife are changing the fortunes of these iconic birds. In an attempt to reverse corn bunting declines, nine East Neuk farmers have been growing corn bunting seed mixes. More recently, the East Neuk Estates Group, comprising six estates made a collective commitment to support the recovery of the local corn bunting population, effectively doubling the area of corn bunting seed mix that was grown in the past. Meaning even more corn buntings have access to the ‘big three’ – safe nesting places, insect-rich summer foraging habitats and winter seed food.

Yvonne Stephan is RSPB Scotland’s Corn Bunting Officer. She said: “Everyone who knows me knows how much I like corn buntings and it has been a privilege to meet farmers who share that passion. This celebration event recognises the efforts made by farmers to improve the future of corn buntings in Fife. Declines continue where there are no targeted management measures and we’ve still got a long way to go before the corn bunting’s future is secure. But, the management that is currently underway is critical to their survival and it’s important to shout about this and say thank you.”

The Fife event on 9 December was opened by Johanna Willi, the Biodiversity Co-ordinator for Fife Council explaining how the corn bunting project fits in with the local biodiversity action plan. Hugh Ironside gave updates on another corn bunting project in the area by East of Scotland Growers and SAC before Yvonne celebrated the success of the East Neuk Corn Bunting Recovery Project.

There were opportunities to discuss the Agri Environment Climate Scheme (AECS) options and application as well as greening measures and over lunch farmers could to talk to others involved in the project.

The Fife Environment Trust supports the Corn Bunting Recovery Project in the East Neuk. The funding allows RSPB Scotland to provide a corn bunting seed mix free to all farmers in the corn bunting hotspots. The mix can be established though greening on fallow land, is best sown in plots or, where a plot is not possible, in strips of at least 25m width and needs to be left unharvested over the winter. It provides safe nesting places as well as summer insect food and a vital source of winter seed food.

In addition to this, the Marks & Spencer Farming for the Future Innovation Fund, Kettle Produce and RSPB Scotland are working together with four farmers to deploy targeted measures and trialling a cereal-based seed mix containing flowering plants to benefit pollinators and farmland birds. The crop provides nectar and habitat for pollinators and other insects, as well as nesting sites for corn buntings and other farmland birds. Plus, the crop patches are left unharvested overwinter to provide winter seed food.

Yvonne adds: “Planting just 1-2 hectares of wild bird seed mix per 100 hectares of land appears to be benefitting corn buntings in Fife, so it is possible for farmers to make a big difference. Funding is available through AECS for targeted management for corn buntings and there is additional funding for wild bird seed mix for farmers in the corn bunting hotspots in Fife which makes it easier to help. I encourage anyone who would like support or advice to get in touch with me.”

You can contact Yvonne by emailing yvonne.stephan@rspb.org.uk or calling the Aberdeen office on 01224 624824.

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