Farmers praised for cirl bunting increase

Farmers in Devon and Cornwall have been praised following a significant increase in the number of cirl buntings.

According to latest figures from the RSPB, the national cirl bunting population has increased by 25% since 2003, reaching 862 breeding pairs in 2009.

Despite this increase the species remains confined to a small area of Devon and Cornwall.

The rise in numbers follows a joint campaign by the RSPB and Natural England to help local farmers manage their land in ways that provide year-round food supplies and breeding habitat for these threatened birds.

Under the Cirl Bunting Species Recovery Programme, led by the RSPB and co-funded by Natural England, advisers visit farmers to help them choose the best agri-environment scheme options.

These include grasslands, which provide invertebrates for summer food, and weedy overwinter stubble, which provide essential seed food during the colder months.

“This is fantastic news. We are all very excited that these fascinating birds are starting to make a comeback,” said Mark Avery, RSPB director of conservation.

“We have learnt a lot in recent years about cirl buntings and how to protect their habitat, and now that is paying off. But we can’t take all the credit. The cirl bunting is a farmland bird and it’s down to the work farmers on the Devon coast have put in on their land that this comeback has been possible.

“Farmland birds as a group have declined by 50% in the past 40 years. If we can halt the decline in a dangerously threatened species like this one then there is hope for all the endangered birds in our countryside.”

Tom Tew, chief scientist of Natural England, said: “The recovery of the cirl bunting shows what can be achieved when farmers and conservationists work together to target specific land management measures in the right place.”