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Choughed with success

Last modified: 23 June 2011

Adult chough on Oronsay RSPB nature reserve

Image: Andy Hay

RSPB Northern Ireland is celebrating a year of rare returns with the fledging of two choughs on Rathlin Island. Last week it announced the return of the golden plover to Co Fermanagh. This week, the wildlife conservation charity is over the moon with the return of the chough.  

A member of the crow family, the chough is distinctive with its red feet and beak. However, unlike the rest of its family, it has been slowly disappearing from the Northern Irish landscape and over the past ten years has made an on-again, off-again appearance around the North Antrim coast. 

Working with farmers at Dunseverick and Fairhead, the RSPB has seen the tantalising prospect of the birds’ reestablishment come and go over the years. However, with the purchase of land on Rathlin Island five years ago, along with the careful management of the area, the prospects of this charismatic bird greatly improved. 

“This is the first time chough have bred on the nature reserve since it was bought and specifically managed for it,” said Liam McFaul, RSPB Warden Rathlin Island. “Chough had bred on Rathlin two years ago, but it wasn’t on our reserve. This is a testament to how nature does recover if we give it a helping hand. I speak for all of the RPSB here – our members, staff, volunteers and our partners – when I say how delighted we are and hope that this will be a sign of things to come.” 

Chough became extinct as a regular breeding bird in Northern Ireland just over ten years ago. The NIEA have had a Biodiversity Action Plan for the bird to help it recover. The NIEA funded the purchase of the land as well as its management, and the reestablishment of the birds here has been regarded as a tremendous success. 

“NIEA are very pleased to see this important landmark achieved for this iconic coastal species. Hopefully, the land acquisition by RSPB and its management for chough, marks the beginning of an expansion for this vulnerable species. While the focus of interest here is the chough, this is also an example of wider conservation gains as habitat management is also beneficial for a range of plants and other animals,” said Ian Enlander, NIEA. 

The area of land, Knockans is on the way to the well-known RSPB Seabird Centre at the Westlight, and the RSPB are encouraging people to call in and take a look at it. 

“It has some of the best views on the island, as it overlooks Church Bay and towards the mainland,” said Liam. “Conservation isn’t great just for wildlife. Many people come to Rathlin to experience its wonderful natural surroundings and amazing beauty. Being an islander it means that we are able to retain the beauty of this unique landscape while attracting a viable income. We would like to thank the NITB for funding the facilities on Knockans which improve the visitor experience.” 

For more information about Rathlin Island, go to www.rspb.org.uk/reserves.

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