Reed Bunting - Species Action Plan

The reed bunting is a small, seed-eating species seen in spring and summer singing from or perched in a small bush and in winter in mixed finch/bunting flocks on farmland.
The male in breeding plumage has a black head with prominent white moustache stripe and neck collar, streaked brown back and off-white underparts coarsely streaked brown. Females and young have a brown head with buff moustache stripe. Reed Bunting
(Photo credit: Kevin Simmonds)
Ref 2/S19 Species Action Plan 19
Plan Author: RSPB
Plan Co-ordinator: Wetlands BAP Topic Group
Plan Leader: RSPB
Final 10 July 2009

Action Plan Summary

Current Status

National Status

  • The reed bunting inhabits reedbeds and other wetland habitats, as well as drier farmland sites such as overgrown ditches and hedgerows. The species is found throughout Britain and Ireland, although it is scarcer in the uplands and the far north and west. There are other gaps in distribution elsewhere, but with no clear pattern.
  • In Britain, BTO census results show a relatively high population level from the late 1960s to the mid 1970s, followed by a decrease of more than 50% to a new, more stable lower level during the early 1980s. The Waterways Bird Survey, in particular, showed a steep decline from 1974 to 1983; this decline is thought to have been due to poor over-winter survival exacerbated by poor nestling survival in the following year. The species also decreased in range by around 12% between the two breeding atlas periods (1968-72 and 1988-91), with the UK population estimated at around between 192,000 and 211,000 pairs in 2000. BTO breeding bird surveys between 1994 and 2005 showed an increase (from the low levels indicated in the 1970s) of 30% with a continuing slight upwards trend.
  • The reed bunting is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 and EC Birds Directive, and is listed on Appendix II of the Bern Convention. It is not a species of conservation concern elsewhere in Europe, where it is common and widespread.

Norfolk Status

  • The breeding range of reed bunting is primarily associated with wetland habitats, similar to that used by sedge warbler. The greatest concentrations of reed bunting are found in the periphery of the county, in the north, east and west.
  • The Norfolk Bird and Mammal Report 2007 recorded the following breeding territories/pairs:
    Scolt Head: 80 Roydon Common/Grimston Warren: 14
    Lopham Fen: 71 Blakeney GM:  8
    Hickling Broad: 70 Dersingham Bog NNR:  5
    Mid-Yare RSPB Reserve: 56 Blakeney Point: 21+
    Holkham NNR: 51    
  • The 2007 Breeding Bird Survey recorded 76 individuals in 23 BBS squares in Norfolk. Figures showing population trends in the county (derived from BBS online) are given below.



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Current factors causing loss or decline in Norfolk

  • Although the changes in reed bunting populations in Norfolk are relatively unknown, it is likely that numbers of breeding birds have declined in line with other parts of the UK. Long-term declines are probably due to the draining of wetlands and grazing marshes and the intensification of agriculture.
  • Reed buntings tend to winter in small flocks in wetlands and on farmland. Stubble fields were greatly favoured. However, the switch from spring-sown to autumn-sown cereals has almost removed stubble from the landscape.

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Current Action in Norfolk

  • Reed bunting is a key species identified within the revised agri-environment schemes currently being promoted by Natural England. Promotion of habitat creation and re-creation prescriptions and options within these schemes should benefit reed bunting, if correctly applied.
  • Breeding atlas surveys are completed at regular intervals.

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Action Plan Objectives and Targets


  • For UK, England and Scotland, increase the BBS index to 115% of the 2003 level by 2010.
  • For UK, England, Northern Ireland and Scotland, increase the percentage of occupied BBS squares to 110% of the 2003 level by 2010.


  • Ensure a sustained recovery in numbers so that the BBS index is at least 15% higher than 2003 levels, in both wetland and farmland habitats, by 2015.
  • Ensure the percentage of occupied BBS squares is at least 10% higher than 2003 levels in both wetland and farmland by 2015.

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