This little bird is unique to our region – and in danger of extinction


In the fern beds at the edge of the moor, the twite nests, lined with sheep’s wool, look like Kinder’s eggs.

Dark brown with a mustard face, at first glance it looks like a small sparrow.

But his beautiful song risks being silenced forever.

The number of twite, known as “Pennine Finch” has dropped dramatically in recent years.

The small bird’s highly selective diet is the root cause, and possibly heathland fires.

The twite is one of the few songbirds to feed exclusively on seeds, the other being the linnet.

The hay meadows in the highlands are dwindling as well as the common sorrel, the seeds of which feed the chicks of the twite.

Dandelions, fall hawkbit and thistle seeds are also his preference.

During the breeding season, the twites are now confined to colonies in the new South Pennine Park, which includes the northern edge of Greater Manchester on the Rochdale, Bolton and Bury moors.

MEN Alan Wright’s Wildlife Trust Column for December 29. PIC ADVERTISING/NO FEES/UGC. The rare twite on the moors by Darin Smith

It has been breeding in the highlands of Britain for at least eight thousand years.

However, over the past 14 years the numbers have dropped by more than 90% in England.

Monitoring in 2021 estimated that there were only 12 breeding pairs at 18 monitoring sites, in the South Pennines, a 75% reduction in the number of breeding pairs since 2016.

Usually they would raise a second brood of chicks in August, but this no longer happens – possibly because there are not enough seeds.

Birds on a wire – four twite adults

Huge moorland fires in recent years have reduced the number of potential nesting places.

There are three sites that the RSBB monitors in Rochdale. One of them – the Blackstone Edge area above Littleborough – had a few breeding pairs last year.

The other two sites were breeding sites in the past, but no twites were there last year.

Now the Twite Salvage Project is working with farmers and landowners to help restore and maintain hay meadows near the edges of the moors where twites nest.

It is hoped the move will create critical food sources to help reverse the bird’s decline.

Action for Birds in England, a conservation partnership between Natural England and the RSPB, launched the project. The team is now calling on members of the public to support efforts to save the twite from local extinction by reporting the sightings online.

An adult tweet

Katie Aspin, RSPB Project Manager for the Twite Recovery Project, said: “The lack of breeding pairs seen at our monitoring sites over the past year adds to the worrying picture. If nothing changes, we believe that the twite could disappear locally within three to five years, but we are not ready to abandon this population and believe that there are ways to reverse the trend.

“Landowners, project staff and a team of over 30 volunteers have all made tremendous efforts in recent years to improve the breeding environment for twite in the South Pennines. Although the results obtained so far are not what we hoped, we know that it takes time for habitat management work to produce its full effects.

“Awareness raising is really important if we are to prevent this breeding population from disappearing completely, and we are asking nature lovers across the region to play a part in reporting any sightings. This information will help us build a broader picture of how well these birds are doing and directing conservation efforts where they will have the greatest impact.

An adult twite feeding her chicks. The species is one of only two British songbirds that feed exclusively on seeds

In recent years licensed bird banders have fitted tiny colored rings to the legs of many twites in the South Pennines.

Each ring has a unique combination of colors, allowing the movements of each bird to be accurately tracked.

Details of sightings and photos showing these colored rings can be emailed to [email protected] More detailed information on the species and an identification guide to the twite can be found on the Twite Recovery Project webpage.

The team is also keen to hear from people willing to support the project by donating their time, as well as landowners who want more information on how to manage land in a way that benefits twite.

ADVERTISING IMAGE NO FEES UGC Twite CREDIT: RSPB (Sean Wood’s Laughing Badger column).

The new South Pennines Park, which covers 460 square miles of uplands, valleys and urban fringes, is joining efforts to save the twite by raising awareness of the plight of the birds through a social media campaign.

Created in September 2021, the organization champions a radical new and inclusive approach to landscape management.

Helen Noble, Chief Executive of South Pennines Park, said: “We have a long history of working with our partners through the South Pennines Local Nature Partnership and now the park.

“As the South Pennines are the last significant breeding ground for Twites in England, we are very keen to work with our partners, landowners, farmers and communities to safeguard the South Pennines moorlands and put them in favorable conditions that encourage positively the twites to reproduce. .

“This is a real call to action to care for nature so that it can not only sustain this precious species, but help mitigate the impacts of climate change that we all face.”

Dr Bart Donato, Senior Ornithologist for Natural England, said: “Understanding how to reverse the decline of the twite has so far proved a challenge and the species faces the real threat of extinction. as an English breeding bird.

“Community support in their last stronghold has been instrumental in both understanding how the population is doing and ensuring there is a core population left to recover.

“With the continued support of the local community, each sighting reported and grassland restored helps us move forward on the path to recovery.”

One of the main goals of the Twite Recovery Project since its inception in 2008 has been to increase food availability during the breeding season.

MEN Wildlife – Twite numbers have plummeted on the moors

Nearly 70 landowners have signed 10-year agreements with options to benefit the twites, and approximately 700 hectares of hay meadows and pastures are now managed to provide natural food sources for the twites throughout the growing season. reproduction.

In addition, 250 hectares of land in the South Pennines has been reseeded with key twite food plants.

The project team also tried to encourage late cutting of hay meadows at high altitudes. This allows flowers to sow and provide food for twites early in the breeding season, and ensures that seeds are always available for second broods.

Up to 15 additional feeding stations have been maintained over the past year, with volunteers delivering nyjer seeds to locations near twite breeding sites to help fill gaps in the natural food supply of birds.

A series of emergency measures are now proposed to help stabilize England’s fragile Twit population.

These include fencing to protect twite nests, the use of trail cameras to identify key predator species and research into twite wintering grounds, as well as ongoing engagement with landowners on twite-friendly mountain farming methods and raising awareness among individuals and groups.

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