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The Cirl Bunting Recovers from Extinction

Native British Bird Recovers from the Brink of Extinction


Farmland birds in Britain have struggled in recent years and the populations of many species have experienced a sharp decline. New agricultural practices in the 20th century seriously eroded the birds’ natural habitats and their numbers have fallen 54% since 1970.

A Beacon of Hope


But there is one ray of sunshine amongst the many clouds. The cirl bunting has enjoyed a spectacular recovery thanks to a programme established between the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), Natural England and farmers in the south-west of England.


In 1989 there were just 118 pairs of cirl buntings left in England. The species was on the brink of extinction and something had to be done to save the birds. The joint conservation programme was instituted just in time. This saw farmers managing their land in new ways in order to provide year-round food supplies and habitats for the cirl bunting.


Joint Initiative


Under the initiative, farmers have adopted country stewardship schemes which provide financial incentives to land owners who make wildlife-friendly choices. These include leaving crops to go to stubble after the harvest and providing seed food for the birds during the colder months. Farmers are also encouraged to plant grass margins to their fields which create habitats for insects and spiders. These creatures are food sources for the birds during the summer.


The Recovery


Now, a nationwide survey has revealed that there are 1078 pairs of cirl buntings, a ten-fold increase in their numbers in just 25 years. Naturally, many other species of birds have also benefitted from the initiative including linnets, skylarks and yellowhammer, which are all known to be helped by the establishment of stubbles.


This fabulous news shows that great things can be achieved when farmers and conservationists work together for the good of wildlife. Although farmland bird populations are still falling overall, the project demonstrates that something can be done to save them.


Where can You See Cirl Buntings?


Cirl buntings were once very common and were widespread across much of southern England but they have suffered enormous declines because their food sources and nesting sites were lost due to the changes in agricultural practices. The UK population remains largely confined to the fields and hedges of Devon, although the first successful reintroduction programme has established numbers in Cornwall. Hopefully this species will eventually spread throughout all of the areas that it used to occupy.


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