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Our work: saving the cirl bunting

Birds Of Europe - Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus) by John Gould, London 1837, from the Library at Blickling Hall
Birds Of Europe - Cirl Bunting (Emberiza cirlus) by John Gould, 1837 | © National Trust Images/John Hammond

Find out about the measures the National Trust in Devon has taken in partnership with the RSPB and local farmers to help reverse the decline of the cirl bunting. The rare bird has recovered from the brink of extinction, from only around 100 pairs left in the 1980s to more than a thousand in more recent years. A real conservation success story.

A distinctive bird

The cirl bunting is a rare farmland bird which has a distinctive call that can be heard up to 500m away. Its name is derived from ‘to chirp’ in Italian.

The birds don’t like to travel far when seasons change, and thrive best in winter if stubble is left after crops have been harvested.

Tackling the decline

Cirl bunting numbers have declined due to loss of habitat when farming practices changed, pushing them to the brink of extinction.

After 25 years of the National Trust working with the RSPB and local farmers to re-establish cirl buntings, their numbers have topped 1,000 pairs, compared to just 118 in the 1980s.

The original RSPB Cirl Bunting Project had set a goal of reaching 1,000 pairs, and after 25 years that target has been beaten.

How we’ve helped

Following a general move towards autumn-sown cereal crops and more intensive farming, cirl buntings struggled to find food and nesting materials. Now with the help of our spring barley crop, the birds have been rising out of the red. 

This can be credited in part to the careful work of our National Trust rangers in managing our outdoor sites with local farmers and organisations.

'Our maritime grassland management is beneficial for these birds by providing a mosaic of differing age and structure of gorse and scrub for nesting in, and large areas of open grassland for feeding on insects and seeds.'

– Emma Reece, National Trust Area Ranger

When the re-introduction programme began, many of the birds used for breeding and relocation across Devon and Cornwall, were collected from our South Devon sites.

As a result of these conservation efforts, the return of the charming cirl bunting has been a real success story, illustrating how with the right helping hand a species can bounce back from the threat of extinction.

The South Devon coastline remains a prime spot for watching cirl buntings, with a number of National Trust sites including Prawle Point, Bolberry Down and Wembury being key locations in which to spot them.

Thank you

With your ongoing support, we're able to continue our vital conservation work. Thank you for helping to protect these special places.

View of the Salcombe Estuary towards Overbecks from Bolt Head, South Devon


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