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Page last updated at 13:14 GMT, Tuesday, 16 February 2010
Rare cirl buntings flock back to Devon
By Laura Joint
BBC Devon

A cirl bunting (RSPB)
Cirl buntings have made an amazing fightback in south Devon

The cirl bunting - on the brink of extinction in the UK just 20 years ago - has made a remarkable recovery thanks to conservation efforts in south Devon.

The cirl bunting is the UK's rarest farmland bird species and one of the country's most threatened songbirds.

Once common across southern England, a survey in 1989 found just 118 pairs left in the UK - all in south Devon.

It prompted fears for the species' survival and conservationists launched a recovery project in Devon.

The project is led by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and Natural England, with the help of landowners.

Labrador Bay
The RSPB has opened a cirl bunting reserve at Labrador Bay

A survey in 2003 found the bird was on the way to recovery, with some 700 pairs spotted.

In 2010 the news is even better, with the latest survey finding 862 pairs. And, after efforts to spread the birds' territory, the population has now spread to the southern coast of Cornwall as well.

As part of the species recovery programme, farmers along the south coast of Devon have been encouraged and helped to improve habitat for cirl buntings.

And in 2008, the RSPB opened the Labrador Bay reserve near Maidencombe to create a protected haven for cirl buntings - the first time the charity has bought a piece of land to save a single bird species.

The latest survey findings were revealed in February 2010 and has excited conservationists. However, they warn that cirl bunting numbers and their geographical range need to increase further.

A cirl bunting (RSPB)
Cirl buntings have benefited by careful land management

"This is fantastic news," said RSPB director of conservation, Mark Avery. "We are all very excited that these fascinating birds are starting to make a comeback.

"Wildlife lovers come from across the UK to this area to catch a glimpse of the elusive cirl bunting. It has also become something of a local celebrity - even being incorporated into the emblem of a local village school.

"We have learnt a lot in recent years about cirl buntings and how to protect their habitat, and now that is paying off.

"But we can't take all the credit. 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."

Tom Tew, chief scientist of Natural England, added: "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 and we are delighted that this rare and beautiful bird is making a comeback having come so close to being lost as a breeding bird in this country."

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