Dartmoor ponies helping rare birds to thrive

Ross Bryant
Ross Bryant

A partnership between the RSPB, Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust and Dartmoor farmers Margaret Rogers and Michael Lamb, is helping to increase the numbers of Cirl Buntings in Devon.

The group have been bringing Dartmoor ponies to the Devon coast as conservation grazers, which has helped to ensure that numbers of the rare Cirl Bunting on the site have more than quadrupled in the last 10 years.

“This colourful small bird has a deep connection
with Devon, it was where they were first recorded in 1800 and from where they expanded to become a familiar species around villages and farms throughout southern England.

However, its fortunes suffered a setback after WW2 when changes in land management led to a loss of feeding and nesting sites,” says Cath Jeffs from the RSPB.

The Cirl Bunting has suffered a sharp decline and during the 1990s, less than 120 pairs remained in Devon, with the county being the only area the birds are still to be found in.

“Without this vital grazing this special habitat would disappear under bracken and scrub and its value for our wonderful Devon wildlife would be diminished. It is not just plants that are benefiting from the ponies’ management but also the Cirl Bunting,” added Cath Jeffs.

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