Cirl Bunting revival

I’ll admit I’ve never had a huge interest in birds but the sight of a buzzard or kestrel flying overhead is always a treat and I’ll always remember spotting what I believe was a Hen Harrier whilst on a winter walk near Winchester – the only one I’ve ever seen.

I get a good variety of birds in my garden, most of which are easily identified and pretty common. I have a lovely hand made bird table and my bedroom window looks down into my back garden where said table is situated.

I believe I may have seen a cuckoo on the fence once. I thought it was a fat fluffy pigeon – it may have simply been a fat fluffy pigeon since everyone I told about it said: “You’ll never see a cuckoo, it couldn’t have been,” but maybe I was lucky.

Another bird that I have only ever seen once is the Cirl Bunting. I was on a college trip to see how a farmer was managing his land to help encourage this rare bird as part of a project to save the Cirl Bunting from extinction in the UK.

It was first discovered in the UK in Kingsbridge in 1800 and by the 1930s it was commonly seen but then numbers went into freefall.

Apparently, these little fellows are a bit lazy and don’t venture too far from home so when farming methods changed and many hedgerows were removed to create larger fields, they lost their nesting sites and sources of food. As they were, and still are, largely confined to our beautiful part of the country, they simply ‘fell off their perch’. In 1989 a survey concluded that there were just 118 pairs left.

When I caught sight of this tiny bird in a hedge on the edge of a field, I exclaimed: “It just looks like a yellow blue-tit” and wandered off to look at beetles instead, bemused by my tutor’s excitement and enthusiasm.

Needless to say I was unaware of what a great thing this was at the time and looking back at the project as a whole now, I see how people can pull together, educate each other, change the way things are done and achieve a desired outcome.

In the early 90s the RSPB set up the Cirl Bunting Project and over the next few years The Countryside Stewardship Scheme introduced incentives for farmers to create better environments for the bird which also helped other wildlife.

This scheme was instrumental in re-establishing lost hedgerows and wildlife corridors and probably saved many more species.

I also look at this and see that there are people who will play the long game and work tirelessly towards a goal. 27 years is most of my lifetime, but the results speak for themselves.

More recently, a collaboration between RSPB, Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust and Dartmoor farmers Margaret Rogers and Michael Lamb have shown that the grazing of Dartmoor ponies at Labrador Bay Nature Reserve near Teignmouth has quadrupled the numbers since winter 2009/2010.

There are Cirl Buntings in Cornwall too, with another reintroduction program making a big difference to numbers.

With the introduction of the new Agriculture bill, my hope is that farmers will be paid subsidies for the work they have already carried out in harmony with their farming practices to enhance and protect habitats for such creatures.

Laura White

Author: Laura White

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