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Second pair of wild choughs breed in Cornwall

But natural recolonisation in England is threatened by captive-bred releases, say experts

It’s been revealed that a second pair of wild choughs has successfully bred in Cornwall, marking a new chapter in the story of the birds’ natural recolonisation of the county.

Choughs returned to Cornwall in 2001, after a long absence; since then, the now famous pair on the Lizard has successfully bred each year. Now, after much anticipation, a second pair has raised young.

The new pair is made up of a Cornish born male from the 2004 Lizard brood, and a female that arrived naturally in the county two years ago. They have raised three youngsters, two male and one female, while the original pair fledged five chicks this year. Their three males and two females, bring their total offspring to 20 over five seasons.Alastair Cameron, property manager for the National Trust in South West Cornwall said: We’ve been working with other conservation organisations, volunteers, the farming community and the RDS to get land management on the Cornish coast right for wildlife and this fantastic news shows what we’re doing is paying dividends for the choughs.

[Alastair Cameron, property manager for the National Trust in South West Cornwall said: We’ve been working with other conservation organisations, volunteers, the farming community and the RDS to get land management on the Cornish coast right for wildlife and this fantastic news shows what we’re doing is paying dividends for the choughs.

[The Cornwall Chough Project partnership comprises The National Trust, the RSPB, English Nature and RDS (Rural Development Service). It aims to encourage the restoration of suitable feeding habitats for choughs, monitor and protect the birds that are already present in Cornwall, promote the return of the chough to Cornwall and raise awareness of how managed coastal habitats benefit our native wildlife. ]Based on studies in Wales, researchers predicted there would be two breeding pairs of choughs in Cornwall by 2006 or 2007 so the birds are doing well and, according to local experts, are on the right track to an established population in the county.

RSPB chough project officer, Claire Mucklow, said: The season started with great excitement as there were actually three pairs nest building, but one of the females died after an attack by a fox or dog. Even so, the natural recolonisation process is doing well according to the predicted trends, with just this one out of seven serious breeding attempts failing.

The birds’ natural return to the county is also threatened by controversial plans by Hayle-based zoo, Paradise Park to release captive-bred choughs in Cornwall. English Nature and the RSPB have asked Defra to add chough to Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, which would make further releases illegal unless covered by a licence. There have been well-documented problems with the release of captive-bred barn owls in the past and further releases of that species have already been banned.

Claire added: We feel it would be a great shame if this ill-advised release were to disrupt the natural recovery of one of Cornwall’s best loved birds.

All of this year’s wild chough chicks have been fitted with colour rings so their progress can be monitored. Sightings of the colour ringed birds should be reported to Claire Mucklow, either via e-mail Claire.Mucklow@rspb.org.uk, or by calling 01392 453 775.The choughs’ return to Cornwall is a conservation success story. A pioneering pair of wild choughs returned to the county and bred in 2002 after an absence (as a breeding species) of around 50 years. Sensitive land management has ensured the natural return of the chough to Cornwall. The National Trust, English Nature and RDS continue to ensure that the cliffs are grazed, as this enables the choughs to reach the ground with their beaks and feed on ground dwelling insects. The success is due in no small part to the many supporters of the Cornwall Chough Project, including enthusiastic farmers and landowners in managing their land for choughs to feed and local people, volunteers and staff who guarded both nest sites from egg collectors and disturbance, round the clock. English Nature and the RSPB have joined forces to combine their conservation expertise and scientific research under a programme called Action for Birds in England. This innovative partnership programme will harness around £1 million a year to develop understanding, improve protection and work for the recovery of England’s most threatened birds. The National Trust's work contributes much needed income to local economies across the country and has increasingly demonstrated the important link between a high quality environment and the future economic sustainability of communities. Their ‘Valuing our Environment’ studies found that 40% of the jobs created through tourism rely directly on a high quality environment. English Nature manages the 2000 hectares of the Lizard National Nature Reserve, which includes large areas of coastal heath and grassland that are important for feeding choughs, especially during the winter. The Cornwall Chough Project partnership is concerned for the safety of the future of wild choughs in Cornwall due to the ongoing threat of inappropriate and misinformed releases of captive-bred choughs in the county. Such releases would go against internationally recognised procedures and guidelines, and were rejected by a gathering of chough experts in 2003. If it ever became necessary to release choughs in the future anywhere in the UK, it should only be after vigorous trials and in accordance with IUCN (The World Conservation Union) guidelines.

4th July 2014