Cornish chuffed at the return of the chough

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The Cornish have waited half a century for this moment. The chough, an endangered member of the crow family, has finally returned to its ancient nesting places in the county.

The Cornish have waited half a century for this moment. The chough, an endangered member of the crow family, has finally returned to its ancient nesting places in the county.

According to legend, the chough bears the spirit of King Arthur. Once the bird comes back, so will the ancient king, to lead the county to nationhood. Now, nearly 50 years after they died out in the county, three choughs have settled at an undisclosed location on its southern coast.

The discovery has delighted Cornish nationalists, who are campaigning for a devolved parliament. "This will be seen as a symbol of hope," said Dr Loveday Jenkin of the nationalist party Mebyon Kernow. "The re-emergence of the chough is a symbol of the re-emergence of the Cornish nation."

The last breeding pair was seen in Cornwall in 1954, leaving the bird clinging on in Wales, the Isle of Man, western Scotland and Brittany, the French region with close linguistic and historical links to Cornwall.

Ornithologists believe the birds probably arrived at their new Cornish home from Brittany, and are anxious to keep their precise location secret to prevent bird-watchers, sightseers or even egg-thieves from disturbing them.

The National Trust believes its reappearance could be a side-effect of the foot and mouth crisis. The ban on public access to Cornwall's coastal paths for four months last summer left the cliffs undisturbed for long enough for the chough to return.

The bird's disappearance after the Second World War has been linked to the ending of traditional grazing, where cattle cropped the turf down, exposing worms and beetles. The increasing use of powerful anti-worming drugs for cattle is also blamed for killing off food sources such as worms, grubs and beetles.

The National Trust believes the chough's re-emergence has justified its policy of cropping clifftop grassland and heath areas. "It's really very pleasing, because of the work we've been doing to sites around Cornwall," said Simon Ford, the trust's regional conservation manager.

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