South Devon farm focus area

Over the last 25 years, farmers and landowners have risen to the challenge of helping give nature a home on their farms, providing suitable habitat on their land. As a result, the cirl bunting population has increased by 600 per cent.

 Cirl Bunting, Emberiza cirlus, adult male feeding in straw, on a Devon farm. England


The aim of the South Devon farm focus project is to continue to support our existing base of wildlife-friendly farmers – providing land management advice and helping them to recognise and value the importance of their farming practices for cirl bunting and wider farmland biodiversity – and encourage them to share best practice with others. 
We are keen to build upon this network by continuing to work with local communities to raise the profile of farmland wildlife. We aim to create greater resilience for cirl buntings and other habitats and species to ensure they have a stable and secure future.


  • To provide land owners with a better understanding of sustainable habitat management for farmland biodiversity, enabling them to share a commitment to create resilient habitats for cirl bunting and other rare species, such as greater horseshoe bats, across South Devon.
  • To continue to work closely with partner conservation agencies on a shared vision for the long-term future for cirl buntings.
  • To encourage local communities to take an active role in nature conservation and be proud of their environmental heritage.
  • To work with local authorities and developers to ensure that the impact of development on wildlife is minimised.


  • 1988 - RSPB research into cirl bunting ecology and reasons behind their decline.
  • 1989 - RSPB and Devon Birdwatching and Preservation Society undertake a cirl bunting survey, which began to highlight the issues of a severe decline. There were just 118 pairs left in the UK, mainly confined to Devon.
  • 1992 - Countryside Stewardship Scheme (Governmen- funded agri-environment scheme) introduced a cirl bunting 'special project' to provide targeted low input spring barley followed by weedy over-winter stubbles on the basis of RSPB scientific findings.
  • 1993 - RSPB employed a cirl bunting project officer to work with farmers and landowners to encourage suitable habitat for the birds.
  • 1997 - Research began to look at the feasibility of possible sites for a cirl bunting re-introduction programme.
  • 1998 - RSPB national cirl bunting survey survey recorded 450 pairs - still mainly restricted to South Devon.
  • 2003 - RSPB/English Nature /Defra-funded national cirl bunting survey recorded a population of 697 pairs.
  • 2004 - Cirl bunting re-introduction trials started.
  • 2005 - Countryside Stewardship Scheme is replaced by Environmental Stewardship.
  • 2006 - The cirl bunting re-introduction programme began. A partnership was formed with RSPB, Natural England, Paignton Zoo, National Trust and the Zoological Society of London to reintroduce cirl buntings to their former range in Cornwall with the aim of establishing a separate population.
  • 2007 - First confirmed breeding cirl bunting in Cornwall for over a decade
  • 2008 - Labrador Bay, the first and only cirl bunting nature reserve, was purchased. It was entered into a 10-year HLS/ELS agreement in 2009.
  • 2009 - The National Cirl Bunting Survey (RSPB/Natural England) recorded 862 territories with some range expansion - Rame Head to the west and across the Exe Estuary for the first time at Lympstone. Ten territories are now recorded in Cornwall.
  • 2011 - Last year of releasing cirl bunting chicks into Cornwall as part of the reintroduction project.
  • 2014 - 39 breeding pairs of cirl bunting in Cornwall.

Planned Work

We plan to grow our advisory support to ensure important species such as cirl bunting and arable plants can thrive and raise the profile of wildlife-friendly farmers across South Devon who are committed to delivering farmland biodiversity on their land.
We need to ensure built development does not adversely impact on the recovering cirl bunting population. This involves working closely with local authorities and developers.


  • An astonishing 630 per cent increase in the cirl bunting population since the RSPB Cirl Bunting Project began.
  • The Cirl Bunting Project is widely recognised as a model of agri-environment that delivers for wildlife. This is backed up by RSPB science.
  • In 2009, 54 per cent of the cirl bunting population are recorded on land managed through an agri-environment scheme (Countryside Stewardship Scheme or Higher Level Stewardship), and 95 per cent of the cirl bunting population is within 2km of land managed through agri-environment agreements.
  • Over the last 10 years the project has directly influenced management of over 10 square kilometres of land.
  • A wide variety of other threatened species also benefit from the management that is undertaken for cirl buntings – these include other seed-eating birds such as linnet and skylark, brown hare, rare arable plants, greater and lesser horseshoe bats, grey long-eared bats and flowering plants in species-rich grasslands.


Coast on a stormy day

Cath Jeffs

Project Manager, RSPB
Tagged with: Country: England Habitat: Farmland Project status: Ongoing Project types: Advocacy Project types: Species protection