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A project to bring the rare cirl bunting back to Cornwall is celebrating its best year to date. Cornwall’s re-introduced population of cirl buntings has this year seen its best ever breeding productivity, with 39 pairs producing over 100 fledglings at the Roseland site. With the population showing every sign of becoming established, this novel project to reintroduce a passerine in Europe has so far been a great success.

Cath Jeffs, RSPB Cirl Bunting Project Manager welcomed the news; “These are encouraging signs that the population is on its way to becoming self-sustaining, and as the first passerine reintroduction to take place in Europe, the project can be considered a huge success.”

Since the first hand-reared birds were released in 2006, cirl bunting numbers have been steadily increasing in Cornwall, as has their range, with new breeding territories discovered each year. By attaching coloured leg-rings to all the released birds, it has been possible to monitor their movements to discover their habitat preferences and breeding success. The last birds were released in 2011, and in 2012 the population was 44 pairs. Following a wet summer in that year and a reduction in numbers to 28 pairs in 2013, the population has subsequently increased again.

Ms Jeffs said; “The success of this reintroduction represents a fantastic example of collaborative working. A partnership project, the RSPB works with local farmers along with the National Trust to increase the amount of suitable habitat for the birds, and a farmland advisor works with landowners to secure further habitat for the wider, natural spread of birds through Natural England’s agri-environment schemes.”

The cirl bunting chicks were hand-reared by staff from Paignton Zoo and their health closely monitored by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). The project has been jointly funded by the RSPB and Natural England, as well as receiving £173,670 from SITA Trust and £5,000 from BBC Wildlife Fund.

This year the long, fine, summer weather provided the best possible conditions to enable increased success across all the summer months. Just 21% of pairs failed to produce fledged young compared to an average of 29% for all other previous years of the project and far more pairs than usual successfully fledged more than one brood. One pair even managed to fledge three broods – only the second time this has been recorded on the project.

Jo Gregson, Curator of Birds at Paignton Zoo Environmental Park said; "It is always rewarding to use our avicultural skills and expertise to boost numbers of wild birds. As a South West conservation charity, it is all the more special when the project is working with a native species locally. This project shows the important role top zoos play in conservation. The aviculture work carried out by Paignton Zoo Environmental Park improves our understanding of in-situ issues and can give projects a clear head start."

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