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

Issues that have been identified as possibly affecting twite numbers 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.
  • 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

  • To halt the current decline in both twite numbers and range and in the medium term to increase the population breeding at existing colonies and to establish breeding at new and/or former sites.
  • To increase the proportion of the population having second broods (currently very low).
  • 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

  • Completion of baseline monitoring of birds in 2008–2010, habitat in 2013, and birds and habitat in 2016.
  • 68 landholders signed 10 year agri-environment agreements with options to benefit twite. 
  • This includes approximately 585 ha of hay meadow and pasture that is now managed to provide natural food sources for twite throughout the breeding season.
  • Approximately 285 ha of land has been reseeded with key twite food plants (dandelion/common sorrel/autumn hawkbit), providing food sources for twite in the early (March-April), mid (May-July) and late (August-September) breeding season. 
  • Promotion of hay meadow late cutting date (cut once after 15th July – ideally mid to late August) to ensure that seed is available for second broods.
  • Raised public awareness of the plight of the twite through school visits, news articles, stakeholder meetings and farm events.

Planned Work

Continuing support of farmers and landowners whose fields are being managed as twite foraging habitat.

Work to fill the food gaps identified in the 2016 habitat monitoring, by setting up a hay strewing trial to fill the early food gap, and planting over 3000 autumn hawkbit plug plants to fill the late food gap.

Continuing to work with volunteers to monitor both the twite population and the habitat intervention works.  

Population modelling study to determine what other factors are causing the population declines, and ways that these problems can be solved.  

Promoting the Twite Recovery Project to local communities and other organisations to help raise awareness. 
 

Results

Despite the great amount of effort put in by landholders, volunteers and project staff, the bird monitoring results from 2016 showed continued declines in South Pennines twite abundance.

The habitat monitoring showed that there have been increases in mid-breeding season food plants (common sorrel and cat’s ear), but identified food gaps early and late in the breeding season.  

Although these results are disappointing, we know that it takes time for habitat management work to have its full effects, and for the twite to respond accordingly.  We believe it could yet be too early for our intervention work to produce an effect. 

Partners

  • Natural England

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.

Play video
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