Species Action Plans

Twite

Current status

National

In 1999 the UK twite (Carduelis flavirostris) population was estimated at 10,000 pairs, more than 95% of which were in Scotland (SCARABBS, 1999). The English population is almost entirely confined to the South Pennines.

The twite is on the 'Red List of Birds of Conservation Concern' because of its historical population decline. It is known to have undergone a significant fall in numbers recently but the full extent of this decline is unknown and, for this reason, it was not identified as a UK BAP Priority Species in 1995.

Regional

Evidence suggests that twite numbers in the region have declined consistently since the 1970s.

In the South Pennines a survey of 63 randomly selected 1 km squares were surveyed for breeding twite. The squares selected had been occupied by twite in a 1990 moorland bird survey. Less than 20% of the sample 1 km squares that recorded twite in 1990 also recorded them in 1999. Comparing twite records from moorland only squares surveyed in 1990 and 1999 we see decline of 50%.Thus the twite population was estimated at 415+ pairs in 1990 and by 1999 to around 215 pairs. There appears to be a contraction of breeding range especially obvious in the south – on the North Staffordshire Moors, and the eastern side of the Peak District. This retraction places further significance on the northern part of the South Pennines, including Calderdale. In 2002 efforts were made to collate twite records during the breeding season from keen birdwatchers active in the area. This was not a co-ordinated survey but it is useful to report the results. Unlike the 1999 survey the results include records from all habitats – including moorland, in-bye land (including feeding birds seen in hay meadows) and roadside and quarry sites. A total of 39 sites held a minimum of 226 birds.

Colour-ringing has indicated that the majority of the Yorkshire Pennine population winters on saltmarshes around the Wash but, it is thought that more westerly breeders move to the Lancashire coast. More colour ringing is underway to try to gain further information.

Local

Restricted to fringe of South Pennine Moors and adjacent grasslands.

Current factors causing loss or decline

The reason for the decline of the twite population is thought to be poor breeding success. Food sources are becoming more scarce which is probably reducing the number of second broods. Although there is no hard evidence, the only visible change in the upland fringe in the Calderdale District is the change from hay to silage production, thus reducing the variety of seeds available to the birds.

Twite need a succession of feeding sites throughout the breeding season. When they arrive from the coast they feed mainly on grass seeds – especially annual meadow grass (Poa annua), which can be found on farm tracks, quarry bottoms and reservoir edges. They also feed on the seed litter from purple moor grass (Molinia caerulae), found on the ground where tussocks have been burnt down. Twite also rely heavily on dandelion (Taraxacum spp) seeds when these develop. Later in the summer, as second broods are being fed, the chicks are fed on the seeds of sorrel (Rumex acetosa and R. acetosella) which are collected from hay meadows.

When adults are feeding their young, it is vital that abundant sources of sorrel seeds can be found within a reasonable distance of the moorland edge breeding sites. The estimated maximum distance from the nest site to feeding area is 2km. Once the young leave the nest, they and the parents group together in flocks and can exploit a variety of seeds such as dandelion (Taraxacum spp), thistles (Carduus and Cirsium spp) and cat’s ear (Hypochaeris radicata).

As pasture and meadow management has intensified through larger numbers of stock the amount of seed available for twite has fallen; historically, the decline of working farm horses has also had an impact on the seed varieties available. Silage production frequently involves ploughing up fields and re-seeding with rye grass mixtures. Rye grass is not a good food source for twite, especially as cutting takes place too early in the summer to be of benefit. Likewise, heavily grazed pastures do not contain flowering grasses or sorrel.

As farms have specialised in sheep and beef production in the upland fringe, there has been a loss of mixed farming. Where oats were grown on mixed farms in the past, the stubble provided foraging areas for twite; flocks would over-winter in these areas and not migrate to the coast. Consequently winter survival rates may have been more successful. Turnips used to be grown for mixed stock and the broad-leaved weeds which grew among them would also provide a food source for twite during the winter months.

Increased stock numbers and loss of heather on the moorland fringe may have reduced suitable nesting sites.

More intensive management of roadside verges and grasslands around reservoirs before these areas have set seeds also deprives the twite of food.

Often the least productive land on the farm holds the remnant hay meadows or less intensively managed pastures. At the moment, farmers wanting better financial returns from such land receive better returns from the Woodland Grant Scheme than the Countryside Stewardship Scheme. Consequently some areas are being planted which would be suitable for twite, which is an open country species and will not adapt to woodland.

Twite generally construct their nests low down in bracken litter and could therefore be affected by bracken control programmes if an alternative choice of nesting habitat, such as heather, is not available.

Current action

Research into the ecological requirements of twite has been carried out in West Yorkshire as part of an EU Life Project. An associated piece of work by the RSPB on upland farming and the environment has also been undertaken which looks at recent trends in upland farming, agri-environment schemes and the implications for twite.

A national breeding survey was carried out by the RSPB, EN and JNCC in 1999. In the South Pennines areas surveyed by English Nature in 1990 (Brown, A. et al 1991) were resurveyed in 1999 (Batty, A. et al 1999).

The DEFRA / RDS Countryside Stewardship Scheme can make payments to farmers to maintain existing species-rich hay meadows and manage pastures less intensively.

FC have commissioned EN to produce a report identifying area unsuitable for tree planting around the fringe of the SPA.

EN have commissioned a bird survey (to include twite) covering the in-bye land within 2km of the South Pennines SSSI boundary.

RSPB have been carrying out supplementary feeding at several key sites.

EN have let a contract to East Anglia University to support a PhD study into the detailed ecology of Pennine twite. This involves evaluating wintering and breeding sites, colour ringing of chicks and adults and an evaluation of nest site selection.

Legal status

The twite is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

In bye grasslands have some protection under EIA legislation.

Targets

Actions
1. Policy and LegislationLead PartnerOther partners
Encourage DEFRA to target Stewardship at hay meadows and encourage local farmers to join CSSRSPBCMBC (CAFU), DEFRA / RDS, YWT, HBC, EN
Implement strategic policies for forestry which take into account the requirements of twiteFCCBMC (CAFU), RSPB, HBC, Trees, WRF
Consider the impact on twite breeding/feeding sites when assessing planning applicationsCMBC (DC)CMBC (CAFU), EN, RSPB
Identify and designate breeding sites and key feeding areas as SEGIs / SSSIsEN / WYERSPB, CMBC (CAFU,DP)
2. Site safeguard and managementLead PartnerOther partners
Manage reservoir sites and other upland and upland fringe land holdings for twiteYWEN, CMBC (CAFU), DEFRA / RDS, HBC, RSPB
Encourage appropriate management of agricultural land through advice and targeting of agri-environment payments. In particular:-
  • Discourage intensification of hay meadows and permanent pastures
  • Encourage late cutting of grasslands, retention of uncut field margins and ‘waste’ corners
  • Encourage reductions in stocking numbers and timing of grazing to ensure setting of seeds by grasses and ‘weeds’
  • Encourage the re-instatement of small arable plots, especially weedy root crops / oats, especially on ‘improved’ grasslands
  • Ensure that cutting or spraying of verges or reservoir embankments is not carried out during the twite breeding season.

Encourage the retention of tall heather and bracken on the moorland fringe

FWAGRSPB, CMBC (CAFU), DEFRA / RDS, EN, YW
Encourage sympathetic management of quarries and other derelict sites on the moorland fringeCMBC (DC)CMBC (CAFU), Mineral Companies
Ensure tree planting schemes do not conflict with important twite areasFCRSPB, EN, WRF, CMBC (CAFU)
Encourage late cutting of amenity grasslands in twite areas to ensure dandelions survive to set seedCMBCYW
Investigate and support supplementary feeding projects, where appropriateRSPBCBMC, HBC, YW
3. Species Management and ProtectionLead PartnerOther partners
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4. AdvisoryLead PartnerOther partners
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5. Research and MonitoringLead PartnerOther partners
Collate existing twite records and identify gaps in knowledgeWYECMBC (CAFU), EN, RSPB, HBC
Undertake comprehensive survey of range and populations of twite and associated habitats using standardised and repeatable methodology every 5 yearsRSPBCMBC (CAFU), EN, HBC, WYE
Establish and maintain a database of all breeding sites including details of the condition of associated habitats and potential expansion areas. Make information available to decision makers, key partners, the NBN, and landownersWYECMBC (CAFU), EN, HBC, RSPB
Encourage naturalists to identify suitable feeding areasHBCHSS, RSPB, TNHS, UCWN
Encourage naturalists to submit records and participate in surveysHBCHSS, RSPB, TNHS, UCWN
Use colour-ringing of breeding birds to establish originsRSPBEN, BTO, local ringers
Produce distribution map of twite populationsWYERSPB
Develop links with universities and encourage research on twite and associated wildlifeRSPBCBMC (CAFU), EN, Academic institutions
Establish the optimum management of hay meadows to encourage sorrel in the swardRSPBDEFRA / RDS, EN
Assess the long term viability of supplementary feedingRSPBBTO
6. Communication and publicityLead PartnerOther partners
Improve public awareness of the twite and other upland birds and associated habitatsRSPBAll BAP partners
Develop and implement programme to encourage horse-owners to continue hay production in twite areas through articles in equestrian magazines and contact with local organisationsRSPBFWAG
Publicise existing sites demonstrating good practice in the management and conservation of upland birds and their habitats ensuing information is widely available to landowners / managersRSPBAll BAP partners

Key to abbreviations
AbbreviationDescription
ATCAlternative Technology Centre
BAPBiodiversity Action Plan
BTOBritish Trust for Ornithology
CMBC (CAFU)Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council (Countryside and Forestry Unit)
CMBC (DC)Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council (Development Control)
CMBC (DP)Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council (Development and Policy)
DEFRADepartment of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
ENEnglish Nature
FCForestry Commission
FWAGFarming and Wildlife Advisory Group
HBCHalifax Birdwatchers Club
HSSHalifax Scientific Society
RDSRural Development Service
RSPBRoyal Society for the Protection of Birds
TNHSTodmorden Natural History Society
TreesTreesponsibility
UCWNUpper Calderdale Wildlife Network
WRFWhite Rose Forest
WYEWest Yorkshire Ecology
YWYorkshire Water
YWTYorkshire Wildlife Trust

Plan Co-ordinator: Tim Cleeves, RSPB

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Last Updated: 05/10/2015