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Huge reed bunting roost given a boost by farmers, says RSPB

Last modified: 15 February 2012

Male reed bunting

An unusually high number of reed buntings gathering at a nature reserve in Cambridgeshire is the result of conservation efforts by local farmers, experts believe.

Volunteer counters at the RSPB's reserve at Fowlmere have been reporting growing numbers of the birds and believe there are now more than 500 coming into roost each day. Reed buntings rely on farmland but their numbers have fallen by a quarter since 1970.

In the area around the reserve farmers have been planting plots of seed-rich plants in an effort to boost local bird populations, and conservations say the exceptional roost at Fowlmere proves they are making a difference.

Richard Winspear, RSPB farmland advisor, said: 'We were really excited when we heard about this reed bunting roost - I have never seen so many in one place before.

'These birds are obviously spending the day feeding in the surrounding countryside and are congregating at the reedbed at night where there is ideal habitat for them and safety in numbers.

'There are several farmers in the area who want to do their bit for nature and one of the measures they have taken is planting patches of wild bird seed mix. This provides vital winter food for seed eating birds like reed buntings, corn buntings, yellowhammers and linnet.'

It's not the first time the site has attracted large numbers of reed buntings. Two years ago 1,200 were counted coming in to roost on a single day – one of the largest counts ever seen in the UK. The winter numbers of reed buntings at the reserve has been gradually increasing as more and more farmers in the area take up agri environment measures to help threatened farmland wildlife.

Nearby farmer Robert Law said: 'I believe it is vital that farmers manage their land with wildlife in mind. We are custodians of the countryside and we have a duty to ensure there is always space for nature.

'Wild bird seed mixes is one of the agri environment measures I have on my farm and it is wonderful to see that it is giving local wildlife populations a boost.'

Mr Winspear added: 'These measures are backed by rigorous scientific research so we know they work, but it is fantastic to see real results up close like this. If there were more of these measures in our countryside then we could reverse farmland bird declines.

'Changes to the Common Agricultural Policy and the overall EU Budget could mean funding for agri environment measures are cut. This would undermine all the work farmers and conservationists are doing to make space for nature in our countryside.'

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