Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax, adult, at beach feeding site, Oronsay RSPB reserve, February 2000

Population trends

The chough used to be relatively widespread around the coast of the UK, but by the early 19th century its range was contracting westwards to its current strongholds.

Around the UK

Changes in livestock management and indiscriminate persecution are thought to be the main reasons for their decline. 

The sharpest and most sustained falls were 1860-1900, during which time persecution by shooting and trapping continued and increased. With its increasing rarity, it attracted major interest from egg collectors and specimen hunters. It became extinct in most of its range in England by the turn of the century, although it survived in Cornwall until 1952. 

During the first half of the 20th century numbers in parts of the chough’s range began to recover, and the national surveys in 1982, 1992 and 2002 show encouraging signs of recovery overall. However, the different sub-populations have had mixed fortunes: an increase has continued in Wales and the Isle of Man, while numbers in Scotland have fluctuated. 

The Northern Ireland population is now critically small with only one breeding pair located since 2002. Also in 2002, choughs once again started to breed in England, as a pair of wild choughs successfully raised their young on the Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall. By the end of 2004, both of these isolated pairs were still present, each nesting successfully.

 Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax, flock feeding on strandline, Oronsay reserve