HC Deb 04 November 2003 vol 412 cc570-1W
Mr. Paul Marsden

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what progress has been made in increasing the number of(a) finches, (b)) tits and (c) buntings in the wild. [132207]

Mr. Bradshaw

The Marsh tit, Willow tit, Linnet, Bullfinch, Yellowhammer, Cirl bunting, Reed bunting and Corn bunting are red-listed in the 2002 birds of conservation concern listings. The Lesser redpoll is amber listed. The Long tailed tit, Coal tit, Blue tit, Great tit, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch are green listed. The colour listing relates to their conservation status, with red representing the steepest decline in numbers. (Gregory et al. 2002:British Birds 1995).

The National Woodland Bird Survey gathers information about the probable causes of change in woodland bird populations and is the first step in identifying possible new approaches to management of woodlands for songbirds; it was initiated in spring 2003 and is organised by the British Trust for Ornithology and the RSPB and funded by Governmental and non governmental bodies. To date, no general national management scheme has been initiated to recover woodland bird populations, although some local management changes brought about through managing both national forests and designated sites may have benefited woodland species. Recent increases in some woodland species are likely to be due to largely natural factors.

As part of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, species action plans for the conservation and enhancement of the cirl bunting, corn bunting, reed bunting and bullfinch were published in 1998. Implementation of the plans is being taken forward through partnerships including government, the agencies and NGOs. The plans identify a wide variety of measures that are being pursued to help improve the status of the species.

Some of the work has been very specific, for example for the cirl bunting there have been special management options made available to farmers. For some of the other species, in addition to some specific measures. general changes to agri-environment schemes to benefit farmland birds have been put in place.

The yellowhammer is a new addition to the birds of conservation concern red-list and as such does not have a formal Species Action Plan. It is, however, one of the core 20 farmland bird species that are included in the government's Farmland Bird Indicator and as such will benefit from actions being taken to improve general farmland habitat management. Defra has recently piloted a new Entry Level agri-environment scheme in England which relies on much simpler management options to benefit widespread farmland habitats—the advantage with this, if it is implemented, will be that it could cover a much greater area of farmland than under current schemes and so ultimately have much greater benefits for farmland birds.