Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra) - Species Action Plan

Ref 2/S10 Species Action Plan 10
Plan Author: RSPB
Plan Co-ordinator: Farmland BAP Topic Group
Plan Leader: RSPB
Final Draft January 2006

Action Plan Summary

Current Status

National Status

  • The corn bunting is a characteristic resident species of lowland arable farmland and is one of the few British species largely dependent on cropped land. Its distribution is curious, with the bulk of the population found across southern and eastern England but with small outlying groups as far away as Cornwall, Lancashire, the Outer Hebrides and north-east Scotland.
  • Corn bunting numbers and distribution have been declining in some areas since the last century and steadily, in most places, since the early 1970s, a trend which appears to be continuing (see The results of the Common Bird Census suggest that there was a 76% decline in the breeding population between 1968 and 1991. In addition, a decline of 32% in its British range between the two breeding atlas periods (1968-72 and 1988-91) has led to further fragmentation of the remaining high density areas and the loss of the species from many areas such as Devon, Shetland, and parts of the West Midlands and south-east England.
  • The Farmland Bunting Survey, organised by the BTO in 1993, recorded only around 20,000 territories remaining in Britain, with no confirmed breeding in Wales. None was found breeding in Northern Ireland during the 1988-91 atlas survey. The species is declining over much of north-west Europe but remains common and widespread in southern Europe.
  • The corn bunting is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, Schedule 1 of the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 and the EC Birds Directive.

Norfolk Status

  • Sparsely distributed within the county with an important concentration in the Brandon Creek/Feltwell area of the Norfolk Fens and along the North Norfolk Coast (RSPB/EN/BTO/Defra Farmland Bird Database).
  • The 1986 Norfolk Bird Atlas recorded corn bunting in only 8% of 2km squares. It is not possible to measure corn bunting population size or trends at a county level.

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Current factors causing loss or decline in Norfolk

  • Although the precise factors remain unclear, the loss of extensive mixed farming appears to be the key to the decline of the corn bunting.
  • Loss of winter food is also thought to be a cause of the population decline. The BTO`s winter corn bunting survey, in 1992/93, showed that weedy stubble fields were by far the most important feeding habitat during the winter. The area of winter stubbles has been greatly reduced in recent decades due to the switch from spring-sown to autumn-sown cereals, the decline in mixed farming and the disappearance of undersowing. In addition, increased herbicide and fertiliser use has reduced the abundance of wildflower seeds.
  • Reduced breeding productivity. The intensification of farming practices, such as the increased use of pesticides and fertilisers, has reduced the availability of insects which are essential as chick food. Changes in grazing/mowing regimes may reduce nest site availability and breeding success on grassland, and the decline in mixed farming has led to the disappearance of insect-rich (and reduced input) undersown spring cereals.

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Current Action in Norfolk

  • Little direct conservation work has been carried out specifically for corn buntings in Norfolk.
  • Rotational set-aside will have benefited the species, although this has been significantly reduced in area in recent years.
  • Corn bunting has been targeted by the arable options in the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, encouraging the growth of spring-sown cereals, the retention of winter stubbles and the provision of wild bird seed crops.
  • Grass margins put in under CSS are likely to have benefited corn bunting by providing suitable nesting habitats. Two metre field margins required under cross-compliance from July 2005 onwards will provide additional benefits.
  • The Environmental Stewardship schemes will continue to provide management options that will be promoted and targeted in support of this species.

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Action Plan Objectives and Targets


  • In the short term, halt or reverse the decline in numbers of the corn bunting by the year 2003 so that the Breeding Bird Survey index is at least at 1996 levels.
  • In the long term, see a sustained recovery in numbers, so that the BBS index is at least 50% higher than 1996 levels with a measurable increase in range by 2008.


  • Maintain the current distribution of corn bunting in Norfolk and by 2010 restore to any parts of the county that have lost breeding corn bunting since 1986.

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