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Scotland’s Orkney Corncrake Numbers Fall

29 October 2016 | The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds News Release

One of Scotland’s rarest breeding birds, the corncrake, has suffered a fall in numbers for the second year running in Orkney, mirroring a trend seen in populations across Scotland.

There were 12 calling males across Orkney in 2016, down from 16 in 2015. Hopes were high after a three-fold increase between 2013 and 2014, but numbers have decreased ever since. In total, across Scotland, 1059 calling males were counted during RSPB Scotland’s annual survey. That’s a drop of 3% when compared with 2015, and a decrease of 20% compared with 2014.

Corncrakes are naturally quite short-lived birds and if habitat conditions are not good, we know they will quickly disappear from the landscape. As they rarely colonise new locations, once they are lost from an area, re-colonisation can be a major challenge. This is why keeping corncrakes in Orkney is regarded as so important.

Inga Seator, RSPB Scotland’s Conservation Advisor for Orkney said: “Orkney is still holding on to a small population of birds – with 12 across the islands this year . It is only possible to keep corncrakes on Orkney with the efforts of farmers who support these birds by managing their land in a way which allows them to breed successfully. This is particularly difficult when they turn up in productive silage fields and we are grateful to the landowners who made such an effort this year to ensure the future of these birds.”

“I’d also like to thank the (nearly) 100 people who reported a corncrake this year. We wouldn’t be able to keep track of the numbers without support from the public so thank you to all of you who reported a corncrake and remember to keep an ear out in May next year too please.”

Despite recent declines in corncrake numbers across Scotland, this species has recovered greatly since conservation efforts, in partnership with crofters and farmers, began in the early 1990s. At that time, populations had dwindled to just 400 calling males.

Stuart Housden, Director of RSPB Scotland, said: “The Scottish corncrake has become emblematic of conservation success in Europe. Effective financial support to crofters and farmers has enabled them to deliver what threatened wildlife needs, benefitting nature, farming communities and all of us as a result.

“Following the EU referendum vote we face huge uncertainties regarding the future of agricultural support payments. During this period, the fortunes of our corncrakes, and the High Nature Value farming and crofting systems that support them, stand as a key test for the Scottish Government.

“It is a mistake to think of agri-environment schemes as money that is an optional extra. It pays for investment and activity which is of vital importance to rural communities, tourism and our wildlife. Existing environmental schemes with effective measures for wildlife, and the right payment rates to ensure good uptake by farmers, must remain in place next year and beyond until new arrangements have been developed.”

Agri-environment funding is currently still available for people who are interested in managing their land for corncrakes. For more information about corncrake management as well as the funding available email


  1. Corncrakes mainly stay hidden among tall vegetation where they can safely raise a family. They are much more often found by hearing their distinctive rasping ‘crex-crex’ call, rather than actually being spotted – this is why they are counted in terms of ‘calling males’.
  2. Corncrake calling male numbers from some key areas:
Location Number of calling males in 2016 Number of calling males in 2015 Number of calling males in 2014
Isle of Coll 89 78 91
Isle of Tiree 346 333 396
Isle of Mull 3 3 3
Islay 84 102 98
Orkney 12 16 36
Mainland – West Highlands 13 8 11
Isle of Skye 25 32 38
Lewis and Harris 109 106 150
Berneray, The Uists, Barra, Vatersay 268 296 345
Colonsay and Oronsay 52 55 86
Iona 28 32 28
Argyll mainland 0 1 0
Treshnish 2 1 2
Mingulay, Sandray, Berneray 6 6 4


Inga Seator
Conservation Adviser

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