England twite recovery project

Various issues have been identified as possibly affecting twite numbers.

Twite Carduelis flavirostris, adult perched side-on upon barb wire fence. RSPB reserve, North Uist

Overview

  • Twite numbers in England have been declining rapidly over the past 50 years.
  • Surveys showed a decline of 72% in the number of breeding pairs of twite in England between 1999 and 2013. 
  • There has also been a decrease in their range, so they are now found at only a handful of breeding sites in the South Pennines.
  • Reasons for the decline include reduced availability of seed, especially later in the breeding season. Typically, twite raise a second brood of chicks in early August, this is not happening in the South Pennines, possibly because there is not enough seed.
  • Reduced availability of suitable nesting habitat, which is primarily mature heather or bracken, with more birds nesting in bracken, which may be more open to predation.
  • Accidental and deliberate moorland fires. Accidental fires often occur through discarded cigarettes, campfires which have not been properly extinguished, or sometimes as a result of managed moorland burning getting out of control.

Objectives

The England Twite Recovery Project was set up in 2008 with the aim to:

  • Halt the current decline in both twite numbers and range.
  • Increase the proportion of the population having second broods.
  • To develop a management plan for each extant twite colony and proactively target habitat intervention within a 2.5-4 km radius of the colony.
  • Secure the future of the designated breeding sites by bringing the non-designated feeding sites into long-term conservation management agreements.

Progress

  • Monitoring of the South Pennines twite breeding population at 18 historic/current breeding sites in 2010, 2016 and 2021.
  • 68 landholders signed 10-year agri-environment agreements with options to benefit twite, including late cut dates so seed is available for second broods.
  • This includes approximately 700 ha of hay meadow and pasture that is now managed to provide natural food sources for twite throughout the breeding season.
  • Approximately 250 ha of land has been reseeded with key twite food plants (dandelion/common sorrel/autumn hawkbit), increasing natural food sources for twite.
  • Over 9000 Autumn hawkbit plug plants planted to fill late breeding season food gaps.
  • Feeding stations running around key breeding sites to provide supplementary food for twite to fill any gaps in birds’ natural food supply.
  • Colour rings fitted to many of the South Pennines twite by licenced bird ringers.  Each ring has a unique combination of colours, allowing the movements of individual birds to be accurately tracked, telling us more about bird movements in the South Pennines and beyond.
  • The project work is supported by a team of over 30 volunteers.

Planned Work

  • Work to secure funding to allow the project to implement emergency measures to help stabilise England’s fragile twite population.
  • Emergency measures will include fencing to protect twite nests, using trail cameras to identify key predator species and research into twite wintering grounds.
  • Continued engagement with landowners over twite-friendly upland farming methods and raising awareness with individuals and groups.
  • Continuing the work with volunteers to run the feeding stations and collect colour ring data.
  • Regular monitoring of the South Pennine twite population and repeat monitoring of the habitat intervention works.


 

Results

  • Despite the great amount of effort put in by landholders, volunteers and project staff, the bird monitoring results from 2016 and 2021 showed continued declines in South Pennines twite abundance.
  • Monitoring in 2021 estimated only 12 breeding pairs across 18 monitoring sites, this is a 75% reduction in the number of breeding pairs since 2016.
  • Population modelling results showed that to stabilise the population, there needs to be an increase in breeding productivity (the number of broods per pair and the number of chicks surviving per brood) and juvenile survival rate (the number of birds surviving their first year).

Partners

Natural England

Volunteers and surveyors - How you can help

Send us details of twite sightings, including the location where they were seen, colour ring combinations (if they are colour ringed) and photos if you have them.  These can be emailed to katrina.aspin@rspb.org.uk.

The team is also keen to hear from individuals keen to support the project by volunteering their time, as well as landowners who want more information on how to manage land in ways that benefit twite. 

Funding

The project is run and funded as a joint venture by the RSPB and Natural England with contributions from Marshalls and Yorkshire Water.

Twite Recovery Project - A Guide To Twite Identification

Dr. Tim Melling, RSPB twite recovery project manager, tells us how to identify the twite.

The twite, or 'Pennine Finch' as it is known locally, is a small brown bird that has bred in the uplands of Britain for at least 8 thousand years. However, over the last 14 years, numbers have nosedived by over 90% in England, and now there are only about 100 breeding pairs, living in about 20 colonies - mainly in the South Pennines.

Most seed-eating songbirds feed their chicks on insects, but twite and their chicks are unusual in feeding almost entirely on seed. The Twite Recovery Project is working with farmers and landowners to help restore and maintain hay meadows close to the moorland edges where the twite nest, thus providing essential food sources for this charming little bird, in an effort to help reverse its fortunes and save it from further decline.

RSPB twite recovery project

Contacts

Coast on a stormy day

Katie Aspin

Twite Project Officer

katrina.aspin@rspb.org.uk

Further reading

Tagged with: Country: England Habitat: Farmland Habitat: Grassland Habitat: Heathland Habitat: Upland Species: Twite Project status: Ongoing Project types: Advocacy Project types: Species protection