16 July 1999

Cirl bunting on the rise

AGRI-ENVIRONMENT schemes have allowed British farmers to help save one of the countrys rarest birds, according to new figures.

Cirl buntings, which breed in the south west, have been brought back from the brink of extinction. Numbers fell in the late 1980s to just over 100 pairs. That has now increased to more than 450 breeding pairs.

Visiting farms in south Devon this week, junior farm minister Elliot Morley, called the recoveries a triumph for MAFFs countryside stewardship scheme.

The revival in the fortunes of the cirl bunting was also described by the RSPB as a "real success story". But the organisation also pointed out how much more could be done if the scheme had more funding.

According to the RSPB, cirl buntings survive best in areas farmed less intensively. "And the Countryside Stewardship scheme, which funds farmers to retain the conditions this bird needs, has encouraged the cirl bunting population to increase threefold to around 456 pairs," a spokesman said.

The society estimates that the cirl bunting population has risen by 70% on land within the stewardship scheme, but by just 2% on other land. &#42