Tomorrow, in deepest Devon there will be a celebration of 25 years of work to save the ‘bird we nearly lost’ – the cirl bunting. RSPB staff, who have led the recovery project for this species will be there alongside Sarah Wollaston MP (the bird's parliamentary champion), Natural England staff, project sponsors and most importantly, the farmers who have been at the heart of this work. They should be proud of their role and we owe them a huge deft of gratitude - this bird was saved because they chose to take the nature friendly options on their farms.
Image courtesy of Andy Hay (RSPB-Images.com)
The reason we are celebrating is that our survey this summer recorded 1,078 breeding pairs – passing the 1,000-pair target the RSPB set when it launched the Cirl Bunting Project a quarter-century ago. This is fabulous news, a wild bird of farmland going from the brink of extinction in this country (there were just 100 pairs left in 1989) to a population which is now much more secure. Something magical has been going on in Devon - more than 100 farmers have responded to the cirl’s plight and helped make this giant step in saving a unique farmland bird.
What was the recipe for success?
Having decided to step in to help the cirl bunting, our team worked hard to understand why the species was declining (loss of food source and nesting sites brought about by changes in farming practices) and then come up with solutions.
But these solutions needed to work for the farmer. So we had to trying to see like the farmer - on their farm. Together we then put together all the ingredients that would allow farmers to take the nature friendly choice. Coming up with the right recipe hasn’t always been easy. There has been pain such as dealing with bureaucracy (filling in lots of forms) or farming problems like dealing with weeds (plants in the wrong place). But there has also been gain as farmers are rewarded through agri-environment schemes (the incentives provided by government as a result of the filled-in forms) and the joy in knowing that they are giving nature is hand. For these farmers, so far at least, the recipe has been a success.
Nationally, we take heart from knowing that hard work, willing farmers and government support can restore farmland wildlife. But, locally working on farms, the difference is even more tangible - success can be seen and heard in the way that abstract national targets or programmes cannot.
The experience we have gained from working on this project can help the UK Government as it strives to meet its international commitments to restore threatened species while restoring biodiversity in a generation through its 25 year environment plan: our future farming and landuse policy needs well designed, well funded nature friendly farming schemes with expert advice available to farmers. Yet, just as important is the mindset of those keen to effect change on farms.
Ultimately, the cirl bunting project worked because we worked with farmers to integrate pro-nature choices into a farm business. This is the best way to a genuinely sustainable recovery for some of our most threatened birds.
So, hats off to all those involved in this conservation success story from deepest Devon. May we learn the lessons and put more colour and sound back into our countryside
But what did you actually DO!? Yes, the paperwork and public relations had to be sorted (well done), but the blog tells us nothing about what actually saved the cirl bunting. Exactly what changes to crops and framing practices were brought about?
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