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Monday, 26 November, 2001, 14:25 GMT
Bird's home protected
cirl bunting
The cirl bunting is threatened by housing growth
A deal to protect one of Britain's rarest birds from the spread of housing is being signed in Devon, one of its last strongholds.

At one time the cirl bunting was found across southern England.

Now demand for a big increase in housing in Devon is posing a new threat to its remaining habitat.

But areas are to be set aside to encourage the bird to stay.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) says that once it has been driven away from a piece of territory, it cannot usually be persuaded to return.

Ten years ago only 130 breeding pairs were known.

Other birds stage a comeback if you restore their habitat, but this little bird is too sensitive

Emma Parkin, RSPB
That number has risen to 450 as a result of farmers joining up to the Countryside Stewardship scheme, but it remains threatened.

Now the RSPB and English Nature have drawn up an agreement to prevent its habitat being allocated for housing.

Several local authorities were expected to sign on Monday, with others thought to be willing to do the same soon.

Emma Parkin of the RSPB said: "The cirl bunting likes mixed farmland, with dense hedgerows.

"But if that disappears, they will go and you are unlikely to get them back.

'Massive threat'

"Other birds stage a comeback if you restore their habitat, but this little bird is too sensitive.

"We know there's a village just outside Exeter with only three pairs left. If one or two of them fail to breed, that population is effectively lost.

"Housing is a massive threat.

"But that doesn't mean you must never develop. They are very happy to live next door to houses or busy roads, as long as they have their little bit."

Farmers have been encouraged to lay hedges and grow grassy areas for the bird's favourite food - grasshoppers.

Click here to go to Devon
See also:

22 Oct 01 | England
Guardian for tree sparrow
07 Feb 00 | Sci/Tech
Mixed fortunes for UK birds
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