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Wild Cornish Chough Chicks

First wild Cornish chough chicks for fifty years

A pair of wild choughs, Britain`s most enigmatic member of the crow family, have successfully nested in England, at a site in West Cornwall, for the first time in 50 years. The news has delighted those conservationists who have dreamt for half a century of seeing these delightful birds return to the cliff tops of England, especially in Cornwall where the Cornish chough features on the county`s coat of arms. The birds, which were first seen in Cornwall last summer, were probably blown across the English Channel from the small population in Brittany.Because of fears of persecution the birds have been protected by a round-the clock-watch by RSPB staff and local volunteers. The hatching of the four chicks in early May was a cause for great celebration for the Cornwall Chough Project, a partnership between The RSPB, The National Trust, English Nature and DEFRA, and for Cornish people. Although the bird disappeared from England in 1952, it is perhaps a fitting tribute to the Queen`s Golden Jubilee that the chough has chosen this year to return as a nesting bird.Choughs forage on grassy cliff tops, grazed by cattle, for their food, consisting mainly of insects and other small invertebrates. The chough`s gradual population decline throughout the last century has been attributed to the reduction of cliff top grazing and more intensive farming methods. The chough`s return crowns nearly 10 years` hard work by the partnership in Cornwall to provide suitable areas for nesting and feeding. This has been achieved through agreements with local landowners, and farmers managing their land for nature conservation, supported in some areas by DEFRA`s Countryside Stewardship Scheme. The chicks` future is still uncertain as they reach the critical fledgling stage. However, there is an air of cautious optimism that this could be the bird`s first step on the long road to the re-colonisation of England. The partnership is now looking for long-term funding to support a project officer to work with landowners to ensure further sites are prepared. In northwest Europe, choughs still breed in Scotland, Ireland, Wales, the Isle of Man and Brittany. In 1992 there were 342 pairs of choughs in Britain and the Isle of Man. Elsewhere in Europe, the birds breed in mountains from Iberia, through the Alps to Greece and Turkey.The RSPB, National Trust, English Nature and the Department of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) acknowledge the considerable help provided from local people and volunteers, who watched over the nesting location to prevent disturbance and ward off egg collectors.

4th July 2014