When was the last time you had a cirl bunting on your farm?
My guess is unless you live in Devon or parts of Cornwall you’ve probably never heard of them.
These relatives of yellowhammers, until the turn of the 19th century, had a stronghold throughout southern England and into parts of Wales and the Midlands. But by 1989 there were just 118 pairs, mostly in Devon. RSPB along with Natural England started to work with farmers in south Devon to try to save the cirl bunting.
Cirl buntings are birds of mixed farmland and the loss of sources of winter food and nest sites were the major reasons for the dramatic decline.
The birds need to forage in weedy stubble fields in winter, in spring they nest in hedges or scrub and feed their chicks on insects, particularly grasshoppers and are often associated with semi-improved grassland. And because they don’t tend to move very far from where they grew up, all of these habitats need to be close together.
They hung on in south Devon because small, traditionally mixed farms persisted with spring-sown crops such as barley and maintained the required habitat diversity.
(RSPB reserve Labrador Bay, managed for cirl buntings; Photo by Andy Hay)
More than twenty years later, the 2009 national survey showed that there were 862 pairs in south Devon and Cornwall. This increase has only been possible because of close work with farmers and the availability of agri-environment schemes. Indeed research showed that cirl buntings increased by 83% on farms in Countryside Stewardship compared to only a 2% increase elsewhere!
Here we have the annual newsletter of the cirl bunting project
Find out how the project is going now, how Entry Level Stewardship can be used to help, what the local farmers think, and another local species being helped by South West farmers.
Welcome to my office. I reckon it’s one of the biggest in the UK.
Vaguely speaking, the ‘walls’ are the A14 to the south, the Cambridgeshire border to the west, the start of the sandy Brecks to the east, and to the North... Well I haven’t quite decided but it’s somewhere in Lincolnshire.
My ‘patch’ is based on a farmland bird ‘hotspot’. Here’s a map of it – striking isn’t it? The red and orange dots are the areas where five or six of our fastest declining farmland bird species are still clinging on.
The full map (and associated credits!) is here – are you in a farmland bird hotspot?
Of course an office this size has advantages and disadvantages. There’s rarely a queue at the water cooler. But it also means that I have to drive for up to an hour to get out of it! As a farmland adviser, I find myself working pretty much all the time, looking for farmland birds and absent-mindedly designing Stewardship applications on my way to the shops.
Occasionally I am summoned to our Regional Office in Norwich, and the train journey has a similar effect. Seemingly endless hectares of sugar beet and wheat whizz by and I find myself looking for those awkward corners in fields or areas that haven’t cropped very well, which would be very productive for wildlife if managed the right way.
But now there’s something else to see. Next time you happen to take a train from March to Norwich, look closely at the countryside – what are those small neat bare patches dotted at intervals in that wheat field? Why is that strip of land rich in colourful wildflowers?
Spot the square – skylark plots appearing in the Fens last spring
The detailed answers to these questions and many more can be found here. The short answer is that many farmers producing food on some of the UK’s most fertile soils are taking on the challenge of providing wildlife habitat as well.
Mention the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and you’ll induce an instant glazed expression on most peoples’ faces, but the fact remains that it determines how our farmland is managed - and as over 70% of the UK’s land area is farmland, it has a huge influence on our wildlife.
What has the CAP got to do with you? Well, until mid-October at least, quite a lot. The CAP is currently up for review and we have a chance to demand that it does much, MUCH more to support wildlife-friendly farming systems and the farmers that run them.
Add your voice – send an email to the EU Environment Commissioner.
It’s our countryside and the future of our farming that’s at stake. So please, Step Up for Nature and make sure our farm wildlife gets a good day at the office.
This is one of the many spectacular views across David White's farm, on the edge of the Marlborough Downs in Wiltshire. David believes it is possible to farm profitably and produce food whilst still enjoying and benefitting wildlife. He is also a passionate wildlife photographer and you can see some of his beautiful images here, many of which were taken here on the farm, south of Swindon.
David is one of the four finalists in the RSPB/Daily Telegraph Nature of Farming Award and was recently interviewed by Charlie Moores on his "Talking Naturally" podcast.
If you would like to read about David and the other three finalists please go to www.rspb.org.uk/farmvote, where YOU will influence which of them wins this prestigious award.
Voting closes on Wednesday 31st August and if you vote you will be entered in a prize draw to win a luxury weekend away at a fancy hotel. What reason is there not to?