8 March 1996

Rare bird is saved by stewardship scheme

MOVES by the Countryside Commission to extend its stewardship scheme to arable areas have helped rescue Britains rarest farmland bird from threatened extinction.

The pilot arable scheme, which enabled farmers in South Devon to be paid for specific conservation management practices, has helped boost numbers of cirl buntings from just 100 pairs in 1989 to an estimated 370 pairs today.

With the commissions stewardship scheme set to move to MAFF next month, senior RSPB officers will lobby junior farm minister Tim Boswell to extend the schemes arable/environmental link when he launches MAFFs species recovery programme at South Allington, Kingsbridge, later today (Friday).

Reasons for the decline in the population of the cirl bunting, which is included in the recently published UK Biodiversity Steering Group as a threatened species, were due to the switch from spring-sown to autumn-sown cereals and the intensification of grassland management.

The stewardship agreement has enabled 24 farmers in Devon to be paid for maintaining winter barley stubble from a spring-sown crop as well as promoting specific grassland and field margins, along with hedgerow and orchard management. These agreements have helped protect at least a fifth of the cirl bunting population.