Archbishop of Canterbury Lends Support to Groundbreaking Project to Bring Back Iconic Bird Linked to His Most Famous Predecessor 

Most Revd Justin Welby highlighted the conservation programme at Wildwood to restore the red-billed Chough to the wild in Kent.

This iconic species which feature heavily at Canterbury Cathedral are currently extinct in Kent but once resided in the Garden of England. Legend says the chough’s distinctive red features came from dabbling in Thomas Becket’s blood following his murder in Canterbury Cathedral

The Dean of Canterbury visited the choughs at Wildwood to mark the anniversary of Becket’s martyrdom on 29th December 1170. The Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken of his support for a ground-breaking conservation project involving an iconic bird species closely associated with Saint Thomas Becket, his most famous predecessor.

Wildwood Trust, in partnership with Kent Wildlife Trust, has launched the project to reintroduce red-billed choughs to the wild in Kent after a 200-year absence.

According to legend, choughs gained their red beaks and feet after a crow flew into the Cathedral and paddled in the blood of Thomas as he lay dying.

Today, on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Thomas Becket – 29th December 1170 – The Most Revd & Rt Hon Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, said:  said he hoped the project would act as a symbol of what can be achieved if people work together to support wildlife and care for nature:

“I am inspired to support Wildwood Trust and partners in restoring the iconic Chough to Kent. Today, the anniversary of the martyrdom of Saint Thomas Becket, is a poignant time to talk about this project and spread understanding of why the Chough is featured at Canterbury Cathedral and in the Canterbury City Coat of Arms. It is so important that we return these birds to our skies.”

To mark the anniversary, the Dean of Canterbury, The Very Reverend Dr Robert Willis came face to face with four young choughs in the aviary at Wildwood, near Herne Bay. The quartet – named Becket, Eleanor, Vera and Pyrrho – hatched earlier this year and became ambassadors for the Trust’s mission to reverse falling numbers of the chough population across the UK. Dean Robert – himself closely associated with animals following the viral appearances of his cats during Morning Prayer videos – said he was delighted to finally meet the choughs in person after seeing them so well represented in the history of Becket and the Cathedral:

“The candle still burns all the time on the site of Becket’s shrine in the Cathedral and the choughs are the signs of Becket so the connection is very strong. To have them back in Kent, if they’re going to breed – and we so hope this programme is successful – would be a lovely link with the past. This is the first time I’ve met the choughs live and they were really love to meet – really beautiful birds.”

The aim is to begin annual releases of choughs  next year (2022) to their former habitat in Kent, so they can once again settle and breed in our county

Laura Gardner is Director of Conservation at Wildwood:

“It’s been an honour to have the Dean here today and see him interact with the young choughs on such a significant day.  We think Becket took a particular shine to him).

“This is such an important project and the choughs he met today have become amazing ambassadors for their species and for their longer-term reintroduction.

‘By shining a light on conservation projects like this, we hope we can pave the way for many more and together we can start to tackle the biodiversity crisis we are all facing.”

Wildwood recently launched a major appeal, in partnership with Kent Wildlife Trust to help raise vital funds to ensure the future of the innovative project.