Choughs of the Coast Path

Historically, a familiar sight across Britain, the chough is now extremely rare, with just 500 breeding pairs in the UK and Isle of Man. The important population of choughs in Cornwall is currently the only one in England, but some have been sighted along the north Devon and Somerset Coast Path too.

Photo: Chough at Lizard Point, Cornwall by Ian Brown

History of the chough

The chough, or the ‘Crow of Cornwall’ has been inextricably linked with Cornish symbolism for many hundreds of years, even featuring prominently in Cornwall’s traditional coat of arms.

According to the RSPB however, the chough was in decline across the UK from the 18th Century onwards thanks to over-hunting and changes in farming practises which saw grazing animals moved away from open coastal cliffs, to inland pastures. With fewer sheep, cattle and ponies roaming the coastline to keep grass and other vegetation short, the chough’s preferred habitat of open, closely grazed land with easy access to soil and animal dung (where their insect food supply lives), shrank significantly.

By 1947 choughs had disappeared from the British countryside, aside from Cornwall where one breeding pair survived. The final lone Cornish chough died in 1973.

Return to Cornwall

Photo: Choughs at Bullion Cliff, Porthleven, Cornwall by Pamela Davies

The chough returned naturally to Cornwall in 2001 from Ireland and thanks to one well-loved pioneering pair who have raised over 30 young, a new population was established on the Lizard. With support from the Cornwall Chough Project the chough has now spread to other parts of Cornwall including Penwith and Rame Head, and has even been sighted in Somerset and north Devon. The chough is still included on the Green List of UK birds of conservation concern.

The South West Coast Path corridor as a chough habitat

Photo: Beetle on the Coast Path near Barnstaple, Devon by Derek Chaplin

The Coast Path and its verges provide the diverse mosaic of habitats required for insects which make up the chough’s diet.

  1. Exposed, hardened soil: some now rare invertebrates on which choughs rely, are in turn now dependent on man-made paths. These include certain snail, weevil, moth and beetle species which require open vegetation, combined with bare patches of soil. In many cases well-worn coastal footpaths are now the only places that fit the bill[1].
  2. Flowering verges: some chough-favourites also need taller flowering plants which thrive along the perimeter of the protected Coast Path corridor, for essential nectar and pollen sources.

By sympathetically managing the Coast Path we can help this iconic bird to recover in numbers.

Discover current wildlife and environmental Path projects:


[1] Management for choughs and coastal biodiversity in Cornwall: the need for grazing, 2012 by Kevin Rylands, Claire Mucklow and Leigh Lock.