Page last updated at 20:57 GMT, Monday, 15 February 2010

Farmers boost Devon and Cornwall cirl bunting numbers

Cirl bunting
Populations of the cirl bunting declined because of intensive agriculture

A rare songbird has seen its numbers increase by 25 over the past seven years because of wildlife-friendly farming, conservationists have said.

The cirl bunting, once found across southern England, is now restricted to coastlines in Devon and Cornwall, the RSPB and Natural England said.

The organisations have worked with farmers to manage land in ways that provide food and habitat for the birds.

They said there were 862 breeding pairs by 2009, up 25% on 2003 levels.

Populations of the bird declined heavily in the second half of the last century, largely as a result of intensive agriculture, with just 118 pairs found in the UK in 1989.

If we can halt the decline... then there is hope for all the endangered birds
Mark Avery, RSPB

The birds are staging a comeback with the help of wildlife-friendly farming, as well as a reintroduction programme and a dedicated RSPB nature reserve.

Farmers have been paid to manage their land for the benefit of the birds.

Mark Avery, conservation director of the RSPB, said: "The cirl bunting is a farmland bird and it's down to the work farmers on the Devon coast have put in on their land that this comeback has been possible.

"Farmland birds as a group have declined by 50% in the past 40 years. If we can halt the decline in a dangerously threatened species like this one, then there is hope for all the endangered birds in our countryside."

The RSPB has also been running a relocation project in a bid to help the birds.

About 60 chicks have been taken from farms each year for the past four years, hand-reared and then released.

Tom Tew, chief scientist at Natural England, said: "The recovery of the cirl bunting shows what can be achieved when farmers and conservationists work together to target specific land management measures in the right place.

"Biodiversity loss need not be the inevitable consequence of 21st Century life."

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