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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 January 2006, 18:02 GMT
Black ravens return to the roost
Raven
The number of ravens across the UK is soaring
A bird once associated with remote upland areas of Wales and England is moving into our towns and cities, according to a Welsh researcher.

Wildlife writer John Lawton Roberts says the raven was persecuted for over 150 years but is now increasingly seen in lowland areas.

Mr Roberts said in the last 20 years the return of the raven had been "astonishing".

Ravens, often associated with death, are Britain's largest species of crow

It is thought their dark reputation results from their habit of eating carrion - including human flesh. Mr Roberts, writing in BBC Wildlife magazine, said that in the 16th century ravens were protected because of their ability to scavenge. They kept streets "free from all filth".

In the 19th century, the jet-black bird had a bounty on its head. The species was classed as vermin because of fears they could attack livestock. By the early 20th century, the species had been exterminated in many areas.

According to Mr Roberts, modern research has found that any sheep killed by ravens are "usually sick and would have died anyway."

In 1990, ravens were thought to breed across Wales, Shropshire, Herefordshire, Avon, Gloucestershire, Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Dorset and the Isle of Wight.

By 1995 they were in Cheshire, Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Worcestershire and Wiltshire. In 2005 they were seen as far south as East and West Sussex.

High up in the mountains, it can sound very ghostly
John Lawton Roberts

Mr Roberts, who is based in Llangollen, has spent many years studying ravens on Ruabon mountain, the Horseshoe Pass and along the Dee Valley.

"In 1988 we only had one pair of ravens on Ruabon mountain but by 2000 there were 10 pairs".

He said the raven's spooky reputation was partly because of its "deep, resonant, gruff" call. "In misty conditions, high up in the mountains, it can sound very ghostly".

"It's an intelligent bird. It feeds on flesh, usually dead flesh and it can somehow sense something is going to die soon".

He said the best way to identify a raven was to listen for the deep call. "It's a large bird, the face is black and it has a much deeper beak than a rook. Look at the tail - if it goes to a wedge shape then it's a raven".

Mr Roberts is anxious to hear from anyone who sees a raven wearing a coloured leg ring. They were used in an experiment to study the breeding patterns and movement of ravens, initially in Shropshire.


SEE ALSO:
Rowdy ravens are given gag order
24 Mar 05 |  Wiltshire
Injured raven enjoys tower life
01 Jun 03 |  North West Wales
Goggle boost for birdwatchers
16 Apr 03 |  Derbyshire


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