Keith Betton, Hampshire County Bird Recorder, reports on a Hampshire Ornithological Society (HOS) corn bunting survey undertaken in the county last year...
The Corn Bunting is a farmland specialist of national priority for conservation bodies and on a local scale the species was included in Hampshire’s Biodiversity Action Plan for seed-eating farmland birds in the early 2000s. The Hampshire Ornithological Society has surveyed their numbers every few years and so we decided to do this again in 2017.
The corn bunting is a farmland specialist whose call is likened to the sound of jangling keys © Keith Betton
Volunteers agreed to visit all of the areas where Corn Buntings were found in the last survey (in 2005) regardless of their history since then, plus extra locations that had birds during our HOS Breeding Atlas (2008-12). They were asked to do surveys from May to July, making monthly visits, obtaining a 6-figure grid reference for each singing male. They were also asked to record the main habitat type.
A total of 172 singing Corn Bunting territories were located – mostly in the west of the county. Birds had vanished from 26 areas, but were found in two new ones. The main habitats used were 41% in barley, 28% in wheat and 19% in pasture.
A major change since the last survey is the complete disappearance of Corn Buntings from the downs around Hambledon. Breeding ceased there after 2006 and at nearby Old Winchester Hill the last territory was found in 2011. However no such decline has been noted around Cheesefoot Head and Gander Down, and the population has remained strong with 13 territories being found in the survey.
Corn buntings are birds of open landscapes, often nesting in barley, which gives them one of their countryside names - fat bird of the barley © Keith Betton
The results have been sent to conservation organisations that talk to Hampshire farmers in the hope that in some cases measures might be carried out to increase the chances of regaining Corn Bunting numbers.
Many thanks to everyone who carried out the survey work and are responsible for delivering these results and to the farmers who allowed us to visit their land.