Rare corncrake returns to breed

  • @mjpmccarthy
CORNCRAKES, WHICH are among Britain's rarest birds, have returned this summer to breed in the Isle of Man after an absence of more than a decade. An adult bird and eight chicks were seen on a nature reserve run by the Manx Wildlife Trust.

They were sighted by John Thorpe, who had been looking for the birds all summer. "I'd almost given up hope when I noticed something creeping through the grass," he said. "I assumed it was a rat, but to my surprise it stood bolt upright and was revealed as an adult corncrake."

Corncrakes have declined spectacularly in the past 30 years as intensive farming has done away with the traditional hay meadows they need for breeding. They are now, more or less, confined to the Western Isles of Scotland, although a few pairs are still thought to be clinging on in Yorkshire.

The birds are difficult to see as they skulk in long vegetation, but the "crek-crek" call of the males, once one of the most distinctive sounds of summer, gives them away. A census last year counted just under 600 male corncrakes in Britain.

They arrive from Africa in the late spring and those in the Isle of Man, where they have been absent for 11 years, have been seen in traditionally managed hay meadows on the Close Sartfield nature reserve. "We are absolutely delighted," said the Manx Wildlife Trust's director, Caroline Steel. "We hope it's the start of things to come."