This summer has seen a dramatic increase in the Cornish Cirl Bunting population, with record numbers of chicks being born in the county. This enigmatic farmland bird used to range across Cornwall but disappeared in the early 1990s. Now, thanks to an ambitious reintroduction project, it has been returned to one of its past haunts and the population is growing. The project draws on expertise from the RSPB, the National Trust, Paignton Zoo, Natural England and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), and has been running since 2006. Chicks are moved under licence from healthy Cirl Bunting populations in Devon and reared and released in south Cornwall.
After breeding was first recorded in 2007, the population has been slowly increasing, but this summer has seen a big increase in the number of pairs breeding, and the number of young leaving nests is the highest ever for the project. Not only that, but the birds are expanding their range.
The RSPB's Project Officer, Nick Tomalin, thinks that this is down to the availability of suitable habitat: "We always knew that the local habitat was good, but the farming community has been very supportive of the project, and many farmers have managed parts of their land to benefit Cirl Buntings and other farmland birds. In many cases, Cirl Buntings have moved into areas where this work has occurred, and it's great to see these farmers rewarded for all their efforts."
Ian Carter, Natural England's ornithologist, added: "Reintroducing a small bird like the Cirl Bunting is a huge and complex task involving supportive landowners, experts who have hand-reared the birds and scientists who monitor their progress. We're encouraged that the birds we've released have reared significant numbers of young, many of which we hope will reach adulthood and then go on to breed. The future of this rare songster looks brighter than it has for many years."
Natural England and the RSPB have worked closely with landowners in the release area to set up Higher Level Stewardship agreements which have been invaluable in helping to ensure that released Cirl Buntings can find sufficient food and breeding sites in the wild. This scheme, funded by Defra and the European Union, pays farmers to manage their land in an environmentally friendly way, tailored to the needs of local wildlife.
Janet Lister, National Trust Nature Conservation Advisor, said: "It's great to see numbers of the Cirl Buntings growing in south Cornwall. The National Trust is pleased to have been able to support this project both at the donor end in South Devon and where the new population has been established in Cornwall. We are really grateful for the help our tenant farmers have provided."
Paignton Zoo Curator of Birds, Jo Gregson, said: "Paignton Zoo is keen to support conservation projects all over the world but working with British birds is always very special for us."
The Cirl Buntings have also been living up to their old name, the 'Village Bunting', by nesting in suburban gardens and feeding around the village edges. Many of the local residents have been delighted to find such a rare species making visits to their gardens and food supplies.
The burgeoning population will continue to be monitored throughout the winter, and with such strong support from the local community, both landowners and residents, conservationists believe these birds have a bright future ahead.
The information in this article was believed correct at the time of writing. BirdGuides Ltd accepts no responsibility for errors, or for any consequences of acting on information in the article. The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily shared by BirdGuides Ltd.