| By Frank Rennie | Whittles Publishing | 2020 | Paperback | 189 pages, 8 plates with colour photos; b/w illustrations, tables | ISBN: 9781849955027 | £18.99p |
The Publisher’s View:
Changes in farmland management throughout the twentieth century, including agricultural intensification and increasing mechanisation, have resulted in the loss of habitat for many species. The Corncrake is one such species that has faced multiple challenges to its survival. Although it was once a common bird throughout northern Europe, the breeding areas of Corncrakes have been steadily reduced to a fraction of what they once were, and in many areas, their continuation as a regularly breeding bird is in serious doubt.
In addition, the behaviour of the Corncrake, nesting under the cover of tall grass and undertaking annual long-distance migrations, means that for most of the last hundred years, its detailed ecology has remained mysterious and little understood. Although there have been millions of words written about the Corncrake in scientific papers, until now there has been no full-length book that attempts to capture all the aspects of its ecology and to present this information to non-specialists. As a result, until very recently, many important facts about its lifestyle and behaviour have not been widely known, even among ornithologists.
Although scarcely seen in its natural habitat, the Corncrake is well-known in many rural areas due to its characteristic (and persistent) night-time calling, but new discoveries with the aid of acoustic science have proved surprising and may offer new ways of improving the location, identification, and management options to protect and enable the population of this iconic species to recover, even to thrive in our countryside. A new appreciation of the requirements of this species and the ways in which our sensitive management of the whole landscape, both in its potential breeding areas across Europe and Asia and in the seasonal quarters in regions of Africa, offer new hope for the future of this fascinating bird.
The Author: Frank Rennie is Professor of Sustainable Rural Development at the University of the Highlands and Islands, based in the Outer Hebrides and he has produced over 30 books and numerous articles. He was the Winner of the 2020 Highland Book Prize.
This is an academic book, by a scientist, but do not let that deter you from reading the account of a remarkable and little-seen species. A lot better known for the drawing together of every study and many anecdotes to give us the first ever dedicate volume to a species seldom see, but often heard if you are in the right place. Indeed, from my limited experience, they can ‘whisper across seven fields’ as the saying goes. Like the common quail you think you are almost sitting on top of the bird when you hear it call, only to find that it is hidden in a clump of rushes in the far corner of the field.
I recall, from half a century ago watching a mainland Scottish field being mown down to the last few stalks before a brood of half a dozen birds fled the blade at the last second. Sadly, one would have to travel even further north to see them, and only because of the efforts of science, RSPB and farmers who have adapted their modern ways to save it from local extinction.
Some of this experience has fed into the wealth of knowledge captured here, which, in turn should help anyone, anywhere intent on saving this skulker.
What I like most about the book is that it weaves academia’s narrative into that of the ordinary persons, giving rigorous data, but making it 100% accessible to the lay reader.
Had Covid-19 not confined us all to quarters for a while the author might not have found time to draw all his notes and knowledge together… so some good came of the pandemic!