Range & Status
Southern Europe; in Britain and Ireland formerly widespread in England; severe decrease since late 1960s, now largely confined to south Devon where there were some 450 territories in 1998 and 550 in 2006. Has also become extinct in Belgium, but numbers increasing elsewhere in Europe and range is expanding in central and south-east Europe (Tucker and Heath, 1994).
Cornwall: formerly quite widespread, but local, with centres of population on the estuary systems. Decline first suspected in the west about 1960, accelerating during 1970s and 1980s and probably extinct by the late 1990s. Species has been subject to a release scheme on the Roseland Peninsula with 72 birds released in 2007 having been raised at Paignton Zoo. Breeding success was noted from some birds in 2008. Additionally, a pair bred successfully on the Rame Peninsula in both 2007 and 2008; this was a natural re-colonisation from the S. Devon population. Isles of Scilly: vagrant.
Habitat & Ecology
Sheltered valleys with overgrown hedges and arable fields. In winter gathers in small parties in sheltered stubbles and weedy fields. Very sedentary, it rarely moves more than 2km from breeding to wintering sites.
Although climatic factors might be involved, it is almost certain that farming changes are responsible for the decline. These include loss of stack yards, intense hedge-trimming, a switch from hay to silage and a more open landscape due to the grubbing of scrub and the loss of Elms Ulmus spp. following Dutch Elm disease (Pay, 1994).
Sympathetic farming to provide more suitable habitat might encourage further natural re-colonisation from Devon. Listed (middle list) as a globally threatened/declining species (BSGR, 1995).