The Cirl Bunting is the UK’s rarest resident farmland bird, found mainly in south Devon. In the 1930s, Cirl Buntings were widespread in southern England but by 1989, there were only about 120 pairs left. RSPB research discovered that changes in land management had reduced food and nest site availability.
The RSPB lobbied hard for a special management prescription for the Cirl Bunting and in 1992, it was introduced as an option in the Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS). This has encouraged many landowners to provide the weedy stubbles which are vital for the birds’ winter survival. Since 1993, a dedicated RSPB project officer has worked with landowners to help them farm in Cirl Bunting-friendly ways.
Research published in 2008 showed that Cirl Buntings increased by 146% on farms that were part of the CSS compared with only 56% on areas that were not. By 2016, the population had recovered to over 1,000 pairs. Things are brighter for Cirl Buntings than 25 years ago, but there are still big challenges. To secure a long-term future, wide-ranging changes in farming policy are needed.