Depending on how much of a birder you are, you may or may not know about the plight of the cirl bunting over recent years. Well, for the last 23 years, the RSPB has been targeting cirl buntings with increasing levels of success.

It all began in 1993 when a cirl bunting project officer was employed to work with farmers and other landowners, encouraging the provision of specific for these birds. And with 450 pairs being recorded in 1998 (mostly found in Devon), followed by a more promising 657 pairs in 2003, cirl bunting reintroduction trials began in 2004.

Cirl Bunting - Andy Hay 

The actual reintroduction program began in 2006 and it began to pay dividends swiftly, with the first breeding cirl buntings in over a decade recorded in Cornwall, 2007.  It was then in 2008 that the RSPB bought land in Labrador Bay in Devon and declared it as the UK’s only cirl bunting reserve.

This was all part of the continued work with farmers in Devon and Cornwall where the RSPB provides advice and guidance on how to manage the land in a way suitable for these birds to flourish. The management involved here is encouraging those with the ability to do so to look after this species and thus create a connection between the locals and the cirl bunting. Similarly, the RSPB has become committed to working with (and against at times) local authorities and developers in areas like Teignmouth and Dawlish, ensuring that future building works do not harm the valuable populations of cirl buntings living there.

The agricultural scheme used with the cirl buntings is known as the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, read more about it here.

Thankfully, the results do not lie. At the last count, there has been an incredible 630 per cent increase in the cirl bunting population since the RSPB began the project all those years ago. Another benefit of the scheme is how much other species have benefited from the hard work put in by all those concerned in the cirl bunting project.

Brown hares have benefited from land managed for cirl buntings. Image Chris Gomersall

Linnets, skylarks, brown hares and several rare plants have all taken major boosts from the project, and as a 2012 study said, “Agri-environment measures for cirl buntings have benefits for a range of taxa beyond the target species, and therefore, largely through reduction of management intensity and maintenance of land-use diversity, improve the overall biodiversity of the farmed landscape where they are present.” Not too catchy I’ll admit, but a great summary of the effect this work has had in Devon and Cornwall.

Ultimately, the cirl bunting is a fantastic example of what can be achieved when landowners and conservationists work together.