NATURE MINISTER Ben Bradshaw has praised Devon farmers for reversing the decline of an important farmland bird.

Latest figures show that, where land is under Countryside Stewardship, the number of cirl buntings has been boosted by 146%.

Researchers from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds also found that the population of the rare farmland bird on farms next to CSS land also increased by 58%.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs scheme had made a valuable contribution in reversing the decline of the cirl bunting within a relatively short time, said Mr Bradshaw.

“I would like to add my thanks, to those of the research team, to the farmers for their fantastic contribution to the recovery of this rare farmland bird.

“I recently visited a farm in Teignbridge with the RSPB and was delighted to see with my own eyes, a number of cirl buntings benefiting from conservation management,” he added.

Further analysis, to work out which land management practices undertaken through CSS are the most important for the bird, will take place this year.

These practices include leaving weedy stubbles over winter and managing field margins and hedgerows for the bird‘s benefit.

“The study has shown what can be achieved when research into the needs of wildlife are translated into practical land management measures,” said English Nature senior ornithologist, Phil Grice.

Guidelines that can be easily adopted by farmers and are encouraged by government-led schemes are also key ingredients for success, he added.

Cirl buntings are currently restricted to areas of South Devon.

Due to concerted conservation action the population has risen from less than 130 pairs in the late 1980s to almost 700 pairs in 2003.