• Corn buntings, or fat bird of the barley as they are sometimes known, occur in relatively good numbers across the chalk soils of the South Downs.  They are often associated with spring barley, hence the name, but will also use winter cereals and rough grassland to nest and feed.

      Corn buntings, South Downs Farmland Bird Initiative

      Corn buntings or 'fat bird of the barley' are a regular sight in certain parts of the Downs (image c. Rosemary Setchfield)

      Many HLS and ELS agreements on the Downs are delivering management options for corn buntings, including conservation headlands, wild bird seed mixtures and winter stubbles.  These all provide great feeding opportunities, but the birds often nest in arable crops, where they are more susceptible to predation and farming operations.  In an attempt to try and lure corn buntings to nest in more suitable areas, a new option providing ‘double drilled’ plots is available within the higher tier of the CSS.

      Research has shown that denser areas within winter wheat are preferred as nesting habitat, and that nests close to the crop edge (within 30m) are more likely to be predated.  Further investigation showed that double drilled areas along headlands were where birds were being drawn to, but due to their proximity to the field edge, nesting success was low.

      A corn bunting nest in a field of winter wheat

      A corn bunting nest in a field of winter wheat (image c. Rosemary Setchfield)

      As a result of these findings, applicants to the higher tier of Countryside Stewardship can now use the threatened species supplement to provide double drilled plots in suitable winter wheat fields.  Data suggests that these plots are most successful when located well out into the field, over 100m if the field is sufficiently large.

      We hope that the SDFBI Bird Monitoring Project will give us a better picture of how corn buntings are faring on the Downs, although it will take a few more years to build an accurate picture.  However, in the meantime, this option can provide a relatively simple way of giving the ‘fat bird of the barley’ and helping hand.

      If you are applying to the higher tier of CSS and would like to see how this option may apply to you, please contact Bruce Fowkes at bruce.fowkes@rspb.org.uk