East Devon wildlife shortlisted for national countryside award

Farmers in East Devon are being praised for their “stellar effort” in helping the endangered Cirl Bunting to increase its population in Devon tenfold in the past 25 years.

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East Devon wildlife shortlisted for national countryside award

Now, the initiative has been shortlisted for the BBC Countryfile Magazine Awards in the Wildlife Success Stories category and voters are being asked to consider the Cirl Buntings alongside the River Otter beavers as their favourite wildlife project.

The Cirl Bunting is a small farmland bird related to the yellowhammer, but is much rarer. Once formerly widespread across southern England and Wales, the population is now largely confined to a narrow coastal strip of farmland in southern Devon, including around the Otter Valley on land managed by Clinton Devon Estates.

In the late 1980s the RSPB carried out research into the reasons behind their decline and discovered that Cirl Buntings were struggling to find food and nesting sites due to hedge removal, lack of field margins, pesticide use and autumn planting, which removed the stubble fields which were used by the birds for foraging during winter.

Cath Jeffs, RSPB Cirl Bunting project manager said: “We are so pleased to see the Cirl Buntings in the running for this award as it highlights the stellar effort of East Devon farmers and other wildlife support organisations, as well as showing how working in harmony with nature really can make a difference.”

In 1989 there were only 118 pairs of Cirls recorded in Devon. Now, thanks to the work of the RSPB, its partners and wildlife friendly farming schemes over the past 25 years - including the restoration of thick hedgerows, cutting hedges on rotation and maintaining scrub - numbers have risen to 1,078 pairs in Devon and 65 pairs in Cornwall.

Clinton Devon Estates has recently begun an organic conversion of Stantyway Farm which supports its core organic home farm centred in the Otter Valley, and are prioritising a number of habitat enhancements which have already delivered benefits to the Cirl Bunting and biodiversity in the area. A bioblitz study where amateur and specialist naturalists recorded wildlife over a 24-hour period, found over 800 species from this site in 2016, including a number of nationally vulnerable and nationally rare species. 

Another local wildlife species that has made it to the BBC Countryfile Magazine shortlist is the beaver. Once native to the UK, the beaver became extinct through hunting 500 years ago.

The River Otter Beaver Trial is a scientifically monitored trial re-introduction of the Eurasian beaver in the River Otter over a five-year period. The aim of the initiative is to understand the impacts of the beaver on the English landscape and its management needs.  The River Otter Beaver Trial is led by Devon Wildlife Trust working in partnership with The University of Exeter, the Derek Gow Consultancy and Clinton Devon Estates.

Kate Ponting, countryside learning officer for Clinton Devon Estates said: “It is great to see our local wildlife shortlisted, particularly two such rare and important species as the Cirl Bunting and the Beaver.

“Whether you favour the bunting or the beaver, I can only urge the people of East Devon to vote for their local wildlife superstars and recognise the outstanding work of local farmers and the organisations that support our wildlife.”

For the chance to see the Cirl Bunting’s first-hand, join Clinton Devon Estates’ Farm and Coastal Bird walk on Saturday 4 March, Stantyway Cross, Otterton at 10am. For more information and to book, call Kate on 01395 446918 or email kate.ponting@clintondevon.com.

To vote in the BBC Countryfile Magazine Awards, visit www.countryfile.com/awards. Voting closes on 28 February.

Do what you can to elevate your profession. It is an honourable one

– Robert Lipscomb, Steward 1865 – 1892

…and the Lord Clinton was, by the whole Council, brought to the King’s presence, who after like thanks was given, was pleased that he should be made High Admiral of England and one of his Privy Council…

– Official record of appointment of 9th Baron Clinton as Lord High Admiral for life on 4th May 1550

Handing over something more valuable than we have today,

– Estates ethos

We are trustees for life of the countryside

– 22nd Baron Clinton, 2002

to set out against the Scots, the King’s enemies and rebels

– Instructions given by Edward 1 to John de Clinton on 8th April 1298, prior to him leading the Royal army to victory at the Battle of Falkirk. As a direct result the Clinton Barony was formed on 22nd July 1299