Restoring the Chough to Kent

Restoring the Chough to Kent

Return the Kentish Chough

Today, few people have heard of the red-billed chough (pronounced “chuff”), or know of its place in the tales, myths and legends which pepper our history, from Thomas Becket to Shakespeare’s King Lear.

Sadly, its experience in the real world is an all too familiar story.

Once a common sight across chalk grasslands and cliffs around Dover, this striking member of the crow family fell victim to historical persecution and intensive farming practices, leading to its widespread extinction. The chough has been missing from Kent for more than 200 years.

But the Kentish chough story is far from over.

As part of our Wilder Kent vision, we have teamed up with Wildwood Trust to develop an exciting initiative to re-introduce choughs to the wild here in Kent. With your support, we can return this iconic species to our county. 

Restoring the Chough to Kent

Help us return the chough to our county and be part of history

We have the ability to DOUBLE your donation

We need to raise £60,000 by 31 January 2022 to make this unique project possible.

Together Kent Wildlife Trust and Wildwood Trust have an amazing opportunity to each raise £60,000 which will unlock an additional £120,000 of match funding. This means that every donation made until this target is reached, will make DOUBLE the impact towards helping these iconic birds return to the wild.

Support our appeal today to help us welcome this iconic bird back to Kent

Chough chicks © Paradise Park

£25 = £50

A donation of £25 = £50 and could feed a baby choughs for two months.
Chough © Paradise Park

£60 = £120

A donation of £60 = £120 and could cover food and veterinary supplies for a chough for four months.
Chough © Janet Packham

£110 = £220

A donation of £110 = £220 and could purchase and install two chough nest boxes.

Chalk grassland: The ideal habitat for choughs

Chalk grassland is one of the UK’s most biodiverse habitats. Flowering plants thrive here, providing a rich source of nectar and pollen that attracts a wide variety of insects. In turn, these insects and their pupae are an essential food source for the chough, whose bright red, curved beak is perfectly suited to probe for them in the short turf and thin soil that is characteristic of chalk grassland.

Yet, as well as being one of our richest habitats, chalk grassland is also one of our rarest: 80% of chalk grasslands have been lost since the Second World War.

But, over the last 30 years, the incredible support of our members has allowed us to restore large areas of chalk grassland habitat across Dover and the wider south-east coast of Kent. We've been able to protect and restore species-rich chalk grassland at many sites, including Lydden Temple Ewell, Nemo Down, Old Park Hill and Coombe Down.

These incredible achievements have brought us to the point where we believe Kent now has enough wildlife-rich habitat to take the next step in restoring this landscape: we can now bring back the missing chough and create an even Wilder Kent.

Your support can make this historic reintroduction possible, and every donation made until our target is reached will unlock match funding, meaning your donation will have DOUBLE the impact.

Getting to know the red-billed chough

The chough is the only member of the crow family with a red bill and red legs, which contrast strikingly with its black, glossy plumage. It is also the rarest member of the crow family in the UK, protected under UK and European Law.

Acrobatic in flight, it has a 'chee-ow' call which is similar to, but louder than, the Jackdaw's.

Choughs live on coastal cliffs and headlands, making chalk grassland in Dover their ideal habitat. They feed on insects, such as leatherjackets and dung beetle larvae that they dig from the ground with their long, curved beaks.  

Choughs mate for life; pairs break away from groups whilst nesting but re-join the flock to forage for food in autumn and winter. They build their nests in small colonies on rock ledges and cliff faces, and even in abandoned buildings, such as the war time structures found along the White Cliffs. They use roots and twigs to construct their nests, before lining them with wool or animal fur. The female lays three to five eggs a year and both parents help to raise the chicks.

Why reintroduce the chough?

Wilder Kent is our vision for the restoration of nature in Kent, creating wildlife-rich landscapes and seascapes and returning our missing species to their rightful places. It is about reconnecting people to nature, and choughs, with their cultural significance can do exactly that.

With species extinctions taking place across the globe, and species populations plummeting in the UK, isn't it time we brought one back?

By returning this missing species to its former habitat we can drive future restoration of neighbouring areas and keep the momentum going for improving this landscape to tackle the biodiversity crisis we currently face. We hope the chough can also act as a symbol of what can be achieved if we work together to support wildlife and care for nature.  

Why Dover? A habitat restoration success story

Sadly, chalk grasslands are now incredibly rare, but Dover remains a stronghold for this internationally important habitat.

A massive 50% of the world’s remaining chalk grassland can be found in England, and 2.5% of this within Dover.

Decades of chalk grassland work around Dover, has created thriving spaces, teeming with colour and life, that now provide ideal habitat to support a wild population of chough.

This reintroduction forms part of a long-term vision to restore choughs across Southern England, involving other conservation organisations, including Paradise ParkWildwood Trust, and Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, to help secure the future of this iconic species and the habitats that support it.

Summer Meadow © Jim Higham

Summer Meadow © Jim Higham

The Chough: A living legend?

These iconic birds feature strongly in the cultural history of our region; choughs can be found on pub signs and coats of arms throughout Kent.  However, just as the chough was lost from our landscape, so too has its cultural significance been all but forgotten.

You may already know the story of Thomas Becket’s murder at Canterbury Cathedral, but did you know of his connection to the chough?

It is rumoured that as Thomas lay dying, a crow flew down and by paddling in his blood, acquired a startling red beak and feet, transforming into a chough. 

Three choughs soon after featured on his coat of arms and, in the 14th century, the City of Canterbury included these birds, alongside the royal lion, on the city’s crest.

The chough’s connection to Dover was immortalised by William Shakespeare who wrote of these charismatic birds in ‘King Lear’. He describes ‘the Crowes and Choughes that wing the midway ayre’, at what became known as 'Shakespeare Cliff’. 

Our plan

By working in partnership, we can make a bigger difference. Kent Wildlife Trust owns and manages significant areas of land; Wildwood Trust brings expertise in conservation breeding and native species' reintroduction. 

Chough chicks will be reared by the expert team at Wildwood Trust and Paradise Park for three months before they are ready to be released into the wild to settle and breed. We plan to release young choughs each year and support these birds to establish a self-sustaining wild population in Kent. 

These birds will be prepared, as best as possible, for life in the wild. We will build a release aviary in a location which, for the birds’ welfare, will be kept private. Here, they will acclimatise to their new surroundings.

With the support of volunteers and state-of-the-art GPS trackers, we will closely monitor the choughs after release to ensure their welfare and track their progress. We will be able to see where they have settled and to check whether they are mating successfully, where they are nesting and monitor their success.

We need to cover a range of costs to make this historic reintroduction possible, including: materials and labour to construct a release aviary, which will be used to prepare the birds for life in the wild; feed and veterinary care for the birds; monitoring equipment; training for volunteers, and much more. 

With your support, we have the chance to write a new chapter in the history of the chough; to one day soon see choughs soaring acrobatically once more over the iconic White Cliffs of Dover, and the magnificent architecture of Dover Castle.
Kirsty Swinnerton
Wilding Ecologist at Kent Wildlife Trust

Restoring the Chough to Kent

Help us return the chough to our county and be part of history