Ratty thriving on Quinag

Water voles on the John Muir Trust’s Quinag property are thriving, despite a national decline in their numbers. Researchers from Aberdeen University found the third highest annual occupancy of water vole sites on the property, in Assynt, North West Sutherland, since the start of monitoring in 1997.

Don O’ Driscoll, the Trust’s Conservation Officer for Quinag said: “It’s really encouraging to see the voles doing so well, especially compared to the national picture where they have declined massively.

“Our plans for Quinag include improving the habitats here so that the native biodiversity, including water voles and golden eagles, can continue to thrive.”

At the same time as the water vole success was reported, RSPB Scotland has raised concerns about the future for another conservation success story, the Concrake. The RSPB is urging the Scottish government not to cut the money it gives to farmers who manage their land in a way which protects rare birds.

Since the payments were introduced corncrake numbers have increased. Recordings of male birds in Scotland have risen for the first time in three years to 1,193 – 66 more than were counted in 2009.

The payments are designed to encourage landowners and tenants to leave meadows to grow. Tall grasses provide shelter from predators for young corncrake. 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.

A conservation programme was launched in 1993 followed by financial assistance to farmers and crofters from the Scottish government. Dr Paul Walton, head of habitats and species at RSPB Scotland, said the government’s Rural Priorities scheme has proved vital in assisting corncrake recovery. He also praised the work of crofters in the Hebrides and Argyll, where most of the birds are found.

Dr Walton said: “The threat of spending cuts has raised concerns that those who farm with corncrakes in mind will be unable to access the right support.

“The story of the Scottish corncrake tells us that agri-environment measures really can make a difference.

“We urge the Scottish government to keep that in mind as it considers its financial future in the light of spending cuts and reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.”

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