Canterbury welcomes back its three, long lost 'chough'
Canterbury is rolling out the red carpet to welcome three of Britain's rarest birds back to the city. Lost to Kent for centuries, the magnificent chough, which adorn the city's coat of arms and civic regalia, can once again be seen back in the county synonymous with this wonderful bird. The Lord Mayor of Canterbury, on an official civic visit, will welcome the birds and may even get the chance to release one of the them into their new home at 2pm on Thursday 16th March at the Wildwood Trust Animal Park. Members of the Press are welcome to join us.
The chough, a member of the crow family, is one of the rarest birds in the UK and was driven to extinction in Kent well over 100 years ago. The chough has a long-standing association with Kent and still lives on in the coat of arms of Canterbury City and the University of Kent, and in Shakespeare's King Lear (Act iv – Fields near Dover, Scene 6) where he introduces the chough in his description of the Dover Cliffs.
The Canterbury-based charity Wildwood Trust has taken delivery of three new chough this week as part of a ground-breaking project to assess if these amazing birds can be released back into the Kent countryside. Famed as acrobats of the sky, the chough naturally performs majestic flying displays which can now be seen by visitors to Kent's largest bird aviary at the Wildwood Trust Animal park on the A291 between Canterbury and Herne Bay. Wildwood's team of expert keepers hope to establish a breeding programme for the birds and supplement with a reintroduction project if deemed feasible.
Leading rewilding expert & Wildwood Trust boss Peter Smith said:
"The chough is an amazing bird whose aerial acrobatics can now thrill our hundreds of thousands of members and visitors. But the story of the chough gets to the very heart of problems of wildlife in the UK. The chough where driven to extinction by persecution and detrimental farming and landownership systems. We can bring these magnificent birds back to Kent, but to make them thrive in our countryside we must make some major changes to how we use the land and the chemicals we pour onto it. By rewilding poor agricultural land full of bugs and little beasties, choughs and a host of rare wildlife can once again thrive in Kent. "
About the chough:
While its black plumage identifies it as a crow, the chough (pronounced 'chuff') has a red bill and red legs unlike any other member of the crow family. Males and females are similar in appearance, but in juveniles the bill is yellow and the plumage and legs are duller in colour than in adults. The red-billed chough, a coastal cliff loving bird, is found mostly on the west coast of the United Kingdom. It became extinct in England until a population recolonised the Cornish coastline in the early 1990's. To date, this is still the only English population.
It is a superb and acrobatic flyer, and can be distinguished when soaring by the "finger feathers" at the wing tips. It is a highly sociable bird in winter, gathering in large flocks. In summer, they build a nest of twigs lined with moss, lichen and sheep's wool. Courtship often includes "mirrored" flying displays where the male and female will follow each other's flight patterns. Between 2 to 6 eggs are laid, which hatch after 19 days, and both parents feed the young until they fledge at six weeks. The young birds follow and harass their parents for food, until becoming independent and spreading their territories during the winter months. They breed from 2-3 continuing until almost 20 years old.
The chough population has become highly fragmented with several isolated populations around the coast of Britain in West Wales, Scotland, Isle of Man and a small population in Cornwall. The chough was once more widespread and formerly occurred as far east as Kent where it became extinct c. 160 years ago (Bullock et al. 1983). The decline of the species in the UK has been due to a number of factors including persecution, pesticides use and changes in farming practice.
Notes to editors
Wildwood Trust have captured some unique high speed footage of the choughs at play which is available for download & will happily assist visiting members of the press to obtain footage on the day.
Wildwood Trust opened in 1999 as a centre of excellence for the conservation of British wildlife, and was established as a registered charity in 2002. Wildwood is Kent's best British wildlife park. Home to over 200 native animals, past and present and set in 40 acres of beautiful ancient woodland where visitors can see bears, wolves, bison, deer, owls, foxes, red squirrels, wild boar, lynx, wild horses, badgers and beavers plus many more. As one of the leading British animal conservation charities in the UK, Wildwood Trust is dedicated to saving Britain's most threatened wildlife. Wildwood Trust have taken part in many ground-breaking conservation programmes to date, which include, saving the water vole, using wild horses to help restore Kent's most precious nature reserves, bringing the extinct European beaver back to Britain and returning the hazel dormouse & red squirrel to areas where they have been made extinct.
Wildwood Trust Herne Common Herne Bay Kent CT6 7LQ