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Springwatch: Ravens return to breed on the White Cliffs

Richard Taylor-Jones
By Richard Taylor-Jones
Wildlife film-maker

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In search of the White Cliffs' pair of ravens

I've had a passion for ravens since I met my wife because of them at the Tower of London. Over the years I've filmed them in some of Britain's most remote and wild places, so to hunt them down in Kent, one of Britain's most populated counties, was a very different challenge.

When it comes to wildlife, Kent is a much underrated part of our country and perhaps the arrival of ravens could change that perception.

My mission: to film the lone pair of ravens that I knew were nesting back in Kent for the first time in 120 years, making them one Kent's rarest breeding birds.

They first bred in 2009 but this unique, pioneering pair have never been filmed before, and so Springwatch 2010 sent me on a mission to track them.

When you live in Kent its pretty easy to watch a series like Springwatch and see all those wild and remote places around the British Isles packed with wildlife and wish that you too could enjoy it all. A chance to get away from the motorways, housing estates and dirty old docks and ferries.

But I've travelled and filmed around an enormous number of those wild places and I still get drawn back to the small area of south east Kent in which I grew up.

It's not somewhere everyone would think of as a wildlife hotspot, but these days it is.

It stretches from the White Cliffs of Dover along to the sands of Ramsgate and Margate - a fascinating piece of coastline that is home to some quite remarkable wildlife, from peregrine falcons to grey seals and orchids.

Wild characters

Ravens are now the most recent addition to the cast of wild characters in the county.

They last bred in Kent in 1890 but due to persecution they were lost from the county, and indeed from most of Britain.

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They became confined to those wild and remote places that people couldn't or wouldn't live in, the mountains and distant islands outposts of Scotland and Wales. There the species stayed for pretty much the last 100 years until protection and a change in attitudes allowed them to recolonise their old homes.

In the last 10 years the raven has really come into its own.

The British population has increased by more than 130% and they've marched back across Britain, finally reaching Kent as a breeding species in 2009 - just one lone pair nesting on the White Cliffs of Dover.

These new birds arriving in a landscape I love was just to much to resist, so I started to follow the birds in the hope of filming them for the BBC.

I started my project back in February 2010 when the birds began to nest, but the bad weather made it impossible to find them.

I met a fantastic group of people though as I tried to track them down, from the National Trust warden on cliffs to local birders. They were able to keep me posted about the birds activities that I missed.

Over a couple of months I built up a picture of where they were and I managed to fine tune my plan so as Springwatch kicked into action I got some fantastic images of ravens flying against the back drop of Dover docks below.

Ravens on the White Cliffs of Dover
Ravens were a common site in Britain during Tudor times

It was an odd scene, these black birds soaring above one of Britain's most industrial landmarks, birds for so long regarded as a bird of the wilderness framed against cross channel ferries and queues of cars and trucks.

But it shouldn't be odd as back in Tudor times ravens were found in towns and cities everywhere.

In fact, they were even protected in many of them as they were seen as street cleaners, scavenging rubbish and even cleaning up rotten flesh of diseased dead bodies.

It was only in the 1600s that the species started to receive a bad press and became more widely known as omens of doom and gloom.

Perhaps the pair of ravens at Dover could change this outdated label, for here they seem to herald a sign that wilderness is returning to this once bruised and battered part of south east Britain - a positive omen of exciting change.

I hope the pair continue to flourish and if people in Kent want to get out and enjoy some wildlife, after watching the birds on Springwatch they might just think to visit this wonderful part of the world.




SEE ALSO
Waders 'not affected' by ravens
17 Feb 10 |  Scotland
Clever ravens cooperatively hunt
01 Dec 09 |  Earth News
Meet the brains of the animal world
07 May 09 |  Science & Environment
Rules on killing ravens relaxed
06 Jan 09 |  Highlands and Islands
Raven nest 'disappears' from park
22 May 08 |  Lincolnshire
Black ravens return to the roost
24 Jan 06 |  North east

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