The red-billed chough has been released into the wild as part of the ground-breaking conservation project to return this at-risk species to Kent.

Canterbury Christ Church University has been working in partnership with the project's lead, Kent Wildlife Trust and Wildwood Trust, to bring together leading experts in chough breeding and to reintroduce and return this species to Kent after a 200-year absence.

The chough, which is rare in Britain, is a member of the crow family with a distinctive, bright red beak and red legs and feet. The bird has a special connection to the region as it appears on Canterbury's coat of arms as well as featuring on Canterbury Christ Church University's crest.

The release of the birds, at the White Cliffs of Dover earlier this month, is the culmination of four years of conservation collaboration work to restore chalk grassland in the area. Rewilding initiatives seek to restore biodiversity and increase ecosystem resilience to change.

The group’s aim is to establish a population that can connect with others along the southern coast and hope to increase numbers and connectivity between populations of chough which will help them to become re-established around coastal areas and protect them from further decline due to climate change. The project partnership will continue to release small family-sized cohorts of between six and 12 birds each year, for a minimum of five years, in order to establish a breeding population of around 50 birds.

The red-billed chough
The red-billed chough

Canterbury Christ Church University’s sustainability team has been working in partnership with local conservation groups, developing research, enriching the student experience and supporting sustainability in the local community.

Their research is helping to influence national policy, through providing written evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) Committee concerning the reintroductions of wildlife in the UK.

Dr Adriana Consorte-McCrea, Conservation Biologist and Education for Sustainable Futures Lead, Alan Bainbridge former Associate Lecturer in the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Education, and Anke Franz Section Director in Psychology, conducted research involving focus groups and interviews to understand how local communities along proposed reintroduction sites perceive the chough and the plans for its return.

Reintroduction and rewilding are positive conservation stories that have the power to inspire people. They can motivate people to do more, as people can see positive results for the focal species and for the whole environment that is being restored with their return. If people support the organisations that are working to improve biodiversity this is positive action. People are motivated to protect what they know and love, and reintroduction stories help people connect and relate.

Dr Adriana Consorte-McCrea, Conservation Biologist and Education for Sustainable Futures LeadConservation Biologist and Education for Sustainable Futures Lead

Dr Consorte McCrea said: “Our research looks at local people’s attitudes, knowledge and beliefs towards reintroduced species, to inform the reintroduction project and help it develop a long-term relationship with different local interest groups.

"Wildwood is a fantastic wildlife park dedicated to British wildlife. The species housed there are part of local history as well as the history of the UK as a whole. The park helps local people to connect with the species being reintroduced- people can see the chough, know more about the project during a visit, and hopefully care about it.”

Laura Gardner Director of Conservation at the Wildwood Trust said: “We are thrilled to be playing such an important role in returning this lost species back to Kent. The red-billed chough is an excellent flagship species, serving as a catalyst for habitat restoration and highlighting the need to conserve, not just the chough but also the rare chalk grassland and the biodiversity which depends upon it.”

Red-billed choughs flying
The choughs have been released at the White Cliffs of Dover

Paul Hadaway Director of Conservation at Kent Wildlife Trust said: “Habitat creation and habitat connectivity at scale is the starting point of the journey back for chough. Chalk grassland is an incredibly rare habitat, we talk about it as being the equivalent to that of the rain forest in UK terms. You can find forty species per square metre in grazed chalk grassland, it has a massive invertebrate population, so it is an incredibly important habitat and what keeps it important is the grazing management by the animals. We and our partners have been working on chalk grassland restoration for 40 plus years and are absolutely delighted to be able to release our first cohort of birds this year.

“Without the enormous support offered by partners like Canterbury Christ Church University this project and others like it simply wouldn't be possible. Not only does this allow us to understand public perception of the chough reintroduction but their support and this mural will increase awareness of the project and biodiversity crisis too.”

Dr Stephen Scoffham, Reader in Sustainability and Education, added: “Given the way the climate crisis is already starting to affect us, the Wilder Kent and other rewilding projects are important not only for protecting but for increasing the resilience of ecosystems in general.

“Canterbury Christ Church is putting sustainability and the environment at the heart of its agenda. It doesn't make sense for this to start and end within our own four walls. Being involved with the local community is not only part of our civic responsibility, but it will also enable students to be better informed about the world around them.”

To commemorate the chough and mark the University’s commitment to ‘rewilding’ and habitat restoration, local artist Greg Stobbs has painted a chough mural at the University’s North Holmes Road campus.

The red-billed chough mural on the North Holmes Road campus
The red-billed chough mural on the North Holmes Road campus

Return to