| Silage Sanctuaries – Saving the Corn Bunting in Scotland
In a quiet corner of Western Europe, corn buntings have taken their tentative first flight towards recovery.
The east of Scotland in the UK is a patchwork of sheep and cattle farming, mixed with spring and winter cereals. Oats, wheat, barley and potatoes are grown alongside hay and silage. But in this apparent farmland bird paradise, something went wrong, and corn buntings were one of the casualties.
Once widespread across the lowland arable landscape of Western Europe, corn bunting numbers have plummeted. The well-known story of 1970s and ‘80s CAP policies encouraging boundary and margin removal, winter cultivation, loss of mixed farming, herbicide use and grassland intensification began to play out in this bit of Scotland as it did elsewhere.
But here a happy ending could be written to this story.
Targeted agri-environment schemes delivered with advice have increased corn bunting numbers, while outside the agri-environment area numbers continue to fall.
Success for corn buntings came partly from an option to provide annually sown, unharvested crop patches, which increased cereal food availability. But only when the scheme was tweaked part-way through to delay cutting of silage was dramatic recovery witnessed – proof that monitoring and responding to results is essential for agri-environment schemes to work.
The task now is to deliver this success across a bigger area. To allow the people of eastern Scotland to see good numbers of corn buntings again, three-quarters of the bird’s population needs to benefit from targeted agri-environment. This might sound daunting, but in fact this would only cost 0.02% of the agricultural and agri-environment subsidies paid out annually in Scotland.
| Further reading:
Trees Robijns, trees.robijns(at)birdlife.org