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Monday, 8 July, 2002, 10:31 GMT 11:31 UK
Rare choughs get VIP visit
Choughs nesting
Legend says King Arthur's spirit entered the chough
The chough, Cornwall's emblem and breeding once again in the county, is to get a VIP visit.

Agriculture Minister Elliott Morley will be visiting the first pair of choughs breeding in England for 55 years, on Monday.

The pair are nesting in an inaccessible sea cave near Lizard Point in Cornwall.

The chough - which appears on the county's coat of arms - was once a regular sight across Britain but the species is now listed as rare and vulnerable by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Elliott Morley
Elliott Morley is a keen bird watcher

The black-plumaged bird with red legs and a curving red beak has been missing from Cornwall for nearly 50 years.

In the 19th Century there were more than 100 pairs in the county but the bird vanished after its food source dried up because of a decline in clifftop grazing and the use of pesticides.

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

There are still only 350 pairs of the bird nationwide.

King Arthur's spirit

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

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

The choughs reappeared in Cornwall earlier this year after a 10-year initiative by the RSPB, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the National Trust.

Mr Morley is to launch a series of wildlife walks in the county and funding from Defra has enabled two National Trust tenant farmers to take part in a project to encourage cattle grazing near the cliffs.

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.



See also:

07 Feb 02 | England
11 Dec 00 | Wales
23 Aug 99 | Science/Nature
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