What we do
Image: RSPB - Nick Tomalin
We had previously been successful in increasing the number of cirl buntings in the UK, but we wanted to do more.
The birds that were thriving lived in a very small part of Devon, and we, along with our partners, wanted to help them move back into areas which had previously been home to cirl buntings.
The problem was that cirl buntings are sedentary by nature, and there was a lack of suitable habitat to coax them out of their Devon stronghold. It seemed likely that cirl buntings would struggle to move to new areas, or would do so very slowly.
So we worked with Natural England to assess the feasibility of establishing another self-sustaining population of cirl buntings by moving (translocating) them to a new area.
We began these assessments in 1997, and after several years of planning, in 2006, we released the first birds on the Roseland Peninsula in Cornwall. This was a site we felt had the right habitat, as well as sympathetic landowners.
We’ve been monitoring the area since we released the birds and they’re doing well. There are now over 50 pairs on the Roseland Peninsula.
It’s an important project not just for cirl buntings; it’s the first time songbird re-introduction has been attempted in Europe so lessons we’ve learnt through this scheme may be useful in other areas.
The project is now in a maintenance phase - we’re not planning future releases. Instead, we’re focussing on habitat retention and creation, and monitoring.
Hopefully the population is now established and we won't need to release any more birds. We'll continue to encourage suitable habitat, and to monitor the birds.
2007: We confirmed the first breeding cirl buntings in Cornwall for around 15 years.
2008: We recorded birds moving further afield, and saw unringed birds (those born in Cornwall are not colour-ringed) interacting with the reintroduced population.
2009: We had higher chick productivity than in previous years, making it similar to that we had seen in the Devon population.
2010: The breeding population increased again, with 16 pairs recorded making nesting attempts and rearing at least 39 young.
2011. The population rose steeply by 75%. The 28 pairs raised a total of at least 69 young. For the first time since the project began, the population in Cornwall consisted mostly of wild-bred birds.
2012: A milestone year, with the project target of 40 pairs reached. Across the monitoring area, 44 pairs were found. Unfortunately the wettest summer for a century severely suppressed productivity, with just 65 fledged young being recorded.
2013: A decline in the breeding population due to bad weather in 2012 - which affected productivity - and no birds having been released in the previous year.
2014: A welcome increase in the population.
2015: A population of over 50 pairs, a number considered self-sustaining.
Cirl bunting chicks
Hand-feeding cirl bunting chicks
Ringed adult male cirl bunting
RSPB staff searching for cirl bunting nests
Cath JeffsProject ManagerE-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
This was a partnership project involving the RSPB, Natural England, the National Trust and Paignton Zoo, with technical support from the Zoological Society of London.
The reintroduction project received funding from the Countdown 2010 Biodiversity Action Fund, SITA Trust, through the Landfill Communities Fund, and the BBC Wildlife Fund provided £5,000.