Cirl Bunting and Wildlife Friendly Farming
Farmers and birds, living together! Wildlife friendly farming has helped one of Britain’s most threatened songbirds to bounce back from the brink of extinction.
The Cirl (pronounced sirl) Bunting is closely related to the Yellowhammer. Once widespread and common over most of southern England, the Cirl Bunting is highly range restricted to a small area in Devon and Cornwall.
From the RSPB:
During the winter, Cirl Buntings forage in weedy stubble fields, feeding on seeds and spilt grain. In the summer, they nest in hedges or scrub and forage in unimproved grassland full of invertebrates: grasshoppers are a particularly valuable food for chicks. As cirl buntings are very sedentary only moving up to 2 km between their breeding and wintering areas, it is vital that all these habitats are within close proximity to each other.
The loss of both winter and summer food sources in addition to nesting sites were the reasons for the major decline in Cirl Bunting numbers during the second half of the last century. Research by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) determined that the food and habitat loss was primarily due to the changes in farming practices.
From the RSPB:
These changes have usually been as a direct result of government support for farmers to intensify management and the drive for the UK to produce cheap food.
- leave crop stubbles over the winter instead of ploughing the land
- maintain semi-improved or rough grasslands
- delay spraying insecticides as long as possible
- leave margins around field and hedge groves untrimmed
- sow barley-based bird seed mix crop
All of this helps provide breeding grounds, nesting spots and food in the form of insects and seeds for the Cirl Bunting. This effort helped raise the Cirl Bunting population to 862 pairs in 2009. This is an increase of 25% over 2003 numbers. The Cirl Bunting in England has come a long way since 1989 when there were only 118 known pairs left!
Mark Avery, director of conservation at RSPB:
“We have learned 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.”
Tom Tew, chief scientist at Natural England:
“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. Biodiversity loss need not be the inevitable consequence of 21st Century life.”
I really like how this program encourages people to live together in harmony with nature. I hope more programs like this are created not only in England but all over the world!
“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.”
Do you know of other programs like this? Let us know in the comments!