Corn bunting numbers decline 'needs urgent action'

Corn bunting [Pic: Andy Hay/RSPB] An Aberdeenshire population declined from 134 pairs to just 12

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Urgent action is needed to transform the fortunes of one of Scotland's fastest declining farmland birds, RSPB Scotland has said.

Only 800 breeding pairs of corn bunting, confined to parts of the eastern lowlands and the Western Isles, are believed to remain in Scotland.

An Aberdeenshire population declined from 134 pairs to only 12 over a 20-year period.

A study has found changes in crop management could be to blame.

The joint study by RSPB Scotland and Dr Adam Watson, who monitored the corn bunting population, reported that an increase in field size and decrease in weed abundance reduced the availability of safe nesting sites and food sources the species depends on.

Dr Watson said: "When I first studied this population in 1989 it was thriving, and I saw winter flocks hundreds strong.

"To me in 2012, the familiar farmlands seem silent and empty. It is tragic."

RSPB Scotland conservation scientist Allan Perkins said: "Intensive crop management and removal of field boundaries, resulting in fewer weeds and the insects they support, together with earlier harvesting of cereals and mowing of grass has had a detrimental effect on the corn bunting.

"This is a species that favours low-intensity farming and it is vital that such systems are preserved, or habitats replicated through agri-environment schemes."

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