Can choughs find a home in North Devon?

North Devon AONB as part of their Coastal Creatures HLF project, very kindly organised and funded a two day boat survey along North Devon’s coast to look for potential chough nest sites and help with our habitat assessment of the coast.

We are looking at how to encourage choughs that already come over from south Wales to stay more than a day or two, and wanted to assess what the nesting opportunities are as historic data on choughs in the area is limited.

Much of the North Devon coast is not visible from land especially between Lynmouth and Morte Point. Once at sea it was particularly obvious how unspoilt and undisturbed and beautiful the coast is. Calm seas and a RIB that could eat up the nautical miles made for two mornings of productive surveys.   Colleagues from National Trust and Natural England were also on-board which was helpful in understanding what the habitat and management was like on the cliff tops.

Western Atlantic hanging oak woodland clothes some stretches from cliff to sea in multi shades of green, hidden seabird colonies came to life, and incredible geological features reminiscent of a flaky pastry disaster made for an experience few get to see.  It was a real privilege and a nice change from land based survey work.

Over the two days, although we saw some very good habitat to support choughs with cattle grazing, pockets of arable and nice shorter swards, there were disappointingly very few places that shouted ‘chough nest site’.  No caves to speak of, few crevices that had potential or chough-sized holes in safe places.  With the sandstones and shales being in the main either unstable or unsuitable  it’s not going to be easy for choughs to recolonize - although they used to breed along this coast in the 19th century.

But, we have a plan...

Given good habitat and few nesting sites, we talked about building chough homes.  Housing issues are not restricted to us humans although choughs are easier to accommodate, they just need a box (albeit a specially designed box).  In Wales, choughs have been using boxes put up for them along the coast for decades and a good proportion of the Welsh population use them so we know they work if the choughs find them (and they do). Another benefit of boxes is that they can be sited where the habitat is suitable; often choughs nest in areas where they end up foraging a considerable distance away - a win-win scenario!

The AONB and Natural England have very kindly said they will look at funding to support this box initiative.  How to get them sited on the sheer cliffs is the next challenge.  Anyone know some intrepid climbers up for a challenge?

Thanks to Jenny Carey-Wood and Cat Oliver from the AONB for their support.