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Thursday, 7 February, 2002, 15:34 GMT
Cornish emblem returns to nest
Choughs nesting
Legend says King Arthur's spirit entered the chough
The bird which is the emblem of Cornwall, but has been missing from the county for nearly 50 years, could soon make a return.

The chough, which features on the county coat of arms, is considered at risk with just 300-400 pairs believed to be left in the UK.

Three of the birds have recently been sighted in a specially developed area in Cornwall.

Now it is hoped the birds will nest in the area to form the basis for a new colony of choughs.

King Arthur's spirit

A partnership between nature charities, the government and landowners has aimed to create more traditional pastoral farmland which the birds favour.

Choughs feed mainly on soil-living insects and other invertebrates and prefer short turf with a plentiful supply of dung.

The black-plumed birds became a symbol of Cornwall because of their legendary link with King Arthur.

We have our fingers crossed the Cornish emblem will again soon be a regular sight in the county

Peter Bowden, rural development
It is said in Cornwall his spirit entered the chough after his death with the birds' red beak and feet signifying the blood of Arthur's battles.

Although once common in Cornwall, the chough declined rapidly after World War II and last bred in the county in 1952.

The three birds were sighted last spring in a countryside stewardship area.

A partnership between the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the RSPB, English Nature and the National Trust is now working to create conditions the birds need to breed.

Rugged coasts

There have also been sightings of birds during the winter in various locations.

Peter Bowden, Defra's rural development adviser in Cornwall said: "This suggests the coastal habitat the chough requires is starting to be recreated.

"Although it is early days, the partnership is hopeful this heralds the start of a successful recolonisation.

"We have our fingers crossed the Cornish emblem will again soon be a regular sight in the county"

The colonies of choughs left in the UK are largely confined to the rugged coasts of Wales, Northern Ireland and the south west Scottish islands.

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