09/02/2006
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Back from the Brink. No 4

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This is the fourth in a series of articles to highlight some of the remarkable success stories achieved by the RSPB though their work to save some of Britain's rarest birds. Chough faced widespread persecution during the 19th century. They were shot as pests and then, as they became rarer, pursued by egg collectors.

Chough: Isle of Man. (Photo: Sean Gray) Chough: Isle of Man. (Photo: Peter Hadfield)

In addition to persecution, changes in farming practice appear to have contributed to the decline of this delightful corvid in some areas. Near to their nesting sites Chough require well-grazed cliff slopes to feed on, and in many areas livestock were moved away from such areas, resulting in taller vegetation which was too dense for the birds to feed amongst.

Research by the RSPB over the past 10 years has been undertaken to assess where Choughs prefer to feed and what they like to eat. This work found that Choughs like to take invertebrates from, or just below, the surface and they prefer areas with short vegetation interspersed with bare areas.

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Different approaches to managing the land specifically for Choughs are being undertaken at different sites in the UK. Some management is focused towards providing suitable nesting sites, whilst other work ensures that there are suitable places for Choughs to feed, through the use of livestock to graze the land.

The prospects for Choughs are presently better than they have been for several decades. In 1982 the estimated population in the UK and Isle of Man was 284, which had increased to 344 in 1992 and 498 by 2002. However, to ensure that this recovery continues it is essential that grazing is maintained in coastal areas to maintain suitable conditions for Choughs to find food. Recently, the Chough returned to breed successfully in Cornwall after an absence of half a century, and they've also returned to Northern Ireland, where the RSPB works closely with landowners.

For further details of how the work of the RSPB has led to this conservation success story, click here to read a PDF which gives the full story.

If you like this sort of work then please consider donating to, or joining, the RSPB.

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