Highlands & Islands

New Uist festival celebrates rare corncrakes

Corncrake. Pic: Andy Hay/RSPB Scotland
Image caption Corncrakes are almost exclusively found in north and west Scotland

One of Scotland's rarest and most elusive birds is to be celebrated in a new festival on the Western Isles.

Corncrakes in the UK are almost exclusive to north and west Scotland after habitat loss in other areas.

RSPB Scotland said increases in numbers of the birds in recent times following years of decline should be celebrated.

The Uist Corncrake Festival will be held at the RSPB Balranald reserve on 22 and 23 June and will include origami and pin the beak on the corncrake.

Reserve manager Jamie Boyle said: "Corncrakes were once common across much of the UK, but changes in farming practices saw the population plummet, and by the early 90s, it became a globally-threatened species.

"But crofters and farmers here in the Hebrides, with support from agricultural schemes, have produced an increase in corncrake numbers in recent years, and that has to be worth celebrating."

Last year, RSPB Scotland said numbers of corncrakes were continuing to rise.

A count had found 1,213 male birds, which can be detected by their calls.

In 2010, 1,193 males were recorded and this was the the first time in three years that numbers of the sub-Saharan migrant had increased.

Corncrakes were counted on Orkney, the Western Isles and the Inner Hebrides.

RSPB Scotland credited the rises on Scottish government agri-environment schemes.

The payments are designed to encourage landowners and tenants to leave meadows to grow.

Tall grasses provide shelter from predators for young corncrakes.

Intensive hay and silage production - which is discouraged through the payments - has been blamed for playing a part in the birds' decline in the UK since the early 20th Century.

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