Britain’s cirl buntings are back from the brink

Once on the brink of extinction, this small farmland bird is on the rise in Britain. 

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Britain’s cirl buntings are back from the brink
Extending as far south as northern Africa, the cirl bunting is at the limit of its European range in southwestern England. © MikeLane45 / iStock

 

With only around 100 pairs left in the country in 1991, a recent survey reveals that the cirl bunting has bounced back and now numbers 1078 breeding pairs in the UK.

The RSPB credits the success to the Cirl Bunting Recovery Programme, which helps farmers take up the Government-run Countryside Stewardship Scheme.

The Stewardship awards farmers payments for making choices that benefit nature, such as ensuring that a year-round supply of food and habitat is available for the birds.

This includes growing spring barley, and leaving it to turn to stubble to provide seed over winter, and planting margins of grassland at the edge of fields, which provide insects for summer food.

Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director, acknowledges that farmers have played a substantial role in helping the population of cirl buntings to grow:  “It is down to the care and hard work farmers in Devon and Cornwall have put in on their land using the tailored schemes that has made this remarkable comeback possible.

"The success is one of the best examples of how conservation groups and farmers can work together to achieve amazing results for wildlife. Without this action the cirl bunting would have almost certainly disappeared from our shores altogether.”

Due to the limited distribution of the birds, the 25-year-long RSPB-led recovery project focused only on farms in southwest England, and as such populations of cirl bunting have been found to recover just in Devon and Cornwall.

But it is hoped that their numbers will continue to climb, and that colonies will soon be found elsewhere in southern England.

Harper commented that this continued success can only be achieved with the backing of the Government: “The success we have seen in just 25 years is down to both the commitment of local farmers and the support they have received from the Government.

"It demonstrates how both conservationists and farmers both want to see our countryside abundant with nature and the sights and sounds of our iconic species. And we would ask Government to continue to recognise and reward those farmers who are doing good work to give nature a home.”
 

Read more wildlife news stories in BBC Wildlife Magazine

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