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WWT Final Crane release graduates at 'school for birds'

 
 

This page contains 13 reader comments. Click here to view (latest Thu 06/11/14 00:58).

The final avian class at a unique school for birds has graduated with flying colours and was yesterday moved to the secret release location in Somerset: 16 young Common Cranes have just completed ten weeks of 'Crane School' at WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre in Gloucestershire. Over the last five years there, five classes of young crane chicks have learnt life's essentials and now almost 100 cranes have been released onto the Somerset Levels and Moors.

It's part of the Great Crane Project, a partnership between WWT, RSPB, Pensthorpe Conservation Trust and Viridor Credits, which aims to restore the Eurasian cranes to their former haunts before they were driven to extinction in the 16th century by over-hunting and loss of wetlands.


Crane 'teachers' exercising birds at Crane School (Photo: Amy King/WWT).

WWT's Amy King is head teacher at Crane School. She said: "This year's Crane School class have really thrived. They've loved their daily walks and this year we drafted in 40 volunteer 'PE teachers' who took the birds for more than 700 hours of exercise. I've worked with the Great Crane Project since day one and it has been the most unforgettable experience. Some of the first birds that I raised have had chicks of their own now. It's just wonderful to know that they're out there, living wild in our landscape once again."

Cranes are long-lived and social birds that live in large flocks. Parents care for their chicks for several months. Their care lasts even beyond the time when they learn to fly, or are fledged. The crane 'pupils' at Crane School are hatched from eggs taken from a healthy wild population in Germany. Human 'teachers' take the role of their natural parents, guiding them through their first few months of life. The cranes' teachers dress in grey hooded overalls to disguise their human form so the young birds don't become accustomed to people.


Common Cranes in their release pen on the Somerset Levels (Photo: Michael Wilson/RSPB).

Now the birds have graduated they've been taken to the Somerset Levels and Moors, where they'll be introduced the flock of previous 'Crane School' graduates, who will quickly take them under their wings. Over the next few years it is hoped that the crane flock should start to grow naturally as birds reach maturity and start to breed. As numbers build up the species should spread out across western Britain.

Damon Bridge, Great Crane Project Manager, commented: "With this last class now on the Levels we're all looking forward to the next phase of the project with the cranes settling down to breed and raise youngsters in the wild. Putting these iconic birds back in this special place is so exciting, a real boost not just for the crane population in the UK, but we hope a symbol of a bright future for the Somerset wetlands."

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The information in this article was believed correct at the time of writing. BirdGuides accepts no responsibility for errors, or for any consequences of acting on information in the article. The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily shared by BirdGuides Ltd.

hide section Reader comments (13)

#1
Can't help feeling this is a complete waste of money when cranes are spreading over the country naturally in any event. It also risks turning the whole country into some sort of giant ornithological themepark. In my view reintroductions should only be promoted where species or subspecies are in risk of extinction or where the species is highly unlikely to ever do it naturally (such as great bustards in the UK) and subject to there being sufficient habitat, protection etc.
   Ian Bradshaw, 07/08/14 12:54Report inappropriate post Report 
#2
I agree Ian. In some instances re-colinisation naturally is so unlikely (e.g. Black Grouse) it seems appropriate to reintroduce. For any migratory bird, or birds which are naturally spreading and re-colonising, it doesn't seem necessary. The old mantra of "provide the habitat and they will come" has proved so successful with the East Anglian population, with cranes spreading to Lakenheath and further from their Norfolk historic stronghold, and now also birds breeding in north-east England too, I believe. It could actually mess up the natural population should they meet the introduced birds from Eastern European populations.
   Steve Portugal, 07/08/14 15:04Report inappropriate post Report 
#3
I totally agree with both Ian’s comment and Steve’s subsequent response. I feel that some of this work has only been funded because the species involved is large and obvious and thus suitable for subsequent media coverage. There are many locally endangered species which do not fit these criteria and if all of the available funds go the photogenic species, this may limit the funding that could then be available for the more mundane species which ecologically may be significantly more important than the headline species. Living on an island group we must expect local extinctions, but also occasional colonization of new species or re-colonisation of previously extinct species. It is very difficult to determine at which point it is right to intervene in these natural processes when the habitat or the climate has changed.
   Jeff Clarke, 08/08/14 00:19Report inappropriate post Report 
#4
Agreed with all of the above - i would like my local waders back and scruffier areas restored so that the habitat and birds improve for everything and everybody..... Restore and create suitable habitat and things will colonise..... I do agree with the Spoon-Billed Sandpiper but i feel that is a special case for a globally-threatened spp.....I can just imagine all the volunteers on their twee Crane-walking exercises in downtown Gloucestershire.....Come up to the Black Country, i have just a couple of Corn Buntings locally!.....As for not imprinting, i can see these birds heading straight for urban areas and following Muslim women shopping ;-)
   Laurie Allan, 09/08/14 06:16Report inappropriate post Report 
#5
All of the comments may decry what has happened, but personally I would rather live in the here and now. They're not going away, and prepare yourselves for the way Common Crane sightings are going for the next decade or so. I was fortunate enough to find a pair of Cranes this spring. One of them was proved to be a released bird. Does it bother me? No, not one bit, because at distance it's impossible to tell. They were still a magnificent sight and I would love to hear from any of the previous posters to say otherwise if they were in my shoes at the time.
   Richard Powell, 11/08/14 22:46Report inappropriate post Report 
#6
To me one of the joys of birdwatching is finding and watching birds that are wild, so I regret to say that I would not have the same joyful experience when watching a bird which I knew had been released. I would still have pleasure in seeing the bird but it would be the same pleasure and interest as if I had seen it in a collection.
   Ian Bradshaw, 13/08/14 11:28Report inappropriate post Report 
#7
I would rather see a project where hedgerows are purchased in South East England where Turtle Doves had protection, and feeding stations ie grain spills were introduced to help them through the season. This is active conservation, where other species would also benefit, and help to conserve a breeding migrant which is near extinction as a british species, This has happened in our lifetime. Yes the European hunters have taken their toll on the decline, but when there is no habitat and food through modern farming practices in the uk for them to breed, we are as guilty as the hunters.
   Andy Cook, 13/08/14 21:06Report inappropriate post Report 
#8
I would totally agree with Andy Cook, but why limit the discussion to the South-East of England? In the Manchester area Turtle Doves were regular (although scarce) up to about twenty years ago, but are now extinct as a breeding species. The hunting on the migration routes must be an important factor, but the lack of suitable habitat for the surviving migrants is possibly even more important. I was very lucky to find one this year (in one of the few local areas of agricultural set-aside), but I fear that it could be the last one that I ever see here. The only chance that the species has this far North appears to be the suitable management of farmland such as providing set-aside areas. This costs money – the question is that should this cost be on the owner of the land or should subsidies be provided?
   Jeff Clarke, 13/08/14 23:20Report inappropriate post Report 
#9
An additional item to consider: As opposed to cranes there many non-photogenic species which are possibly in need of support and these include some that are hardly ever seen! The debate should extend to how much money should be used in supporting the breeding habitats for these such as Spotted and Baillon’s Crakes (the latter is now suspected of breeding in the UK). These species will definitely not provide photo-opportunities in their breeding areas but does this mean that they should be ignored?
   Jeff Clarke, 13/08/14 23:44Report inappropriate post Report 
#10
I don't have a problem with re-introductions per se e.g. White-Tailed Sea Eagles and Red Kites but do with Great Bustards and these Cranes. As for continually funding farmers, there's a case for this in certain situations but as far as i am concerned the individuals either want to do it for its' own intrinsic value or they don't. One local farmer trumpeted how he was 'doing is bit' for set-aside but as soon as the subsidy stopped that was it! I could'nt get any info from DEFRA with regard to set-aside as it was considered 'private' information. All i wanted to do was to contact the landowner(s) to see whether i could survey the areas in the Winter to ascertain what spp were making use of it as nobody else was. One farmer told me that these strips were great as him and his mates found them useful for some rough shooting in the Winter!.....All this and we are paying for it!.....I have been involved in voluntary conservation for decades and do not expect to get subsidised for it.
   Laurie Allan, 15/08/14 07:50Report inappropriate post Report 
#11
We are lucky enough to live in the centre of France,directly under the flight path of Common Cranes. We had our first small party of these wonderous birds of this winter on the ground today . We are just waiting for the 66000 or so that are at Lac du Der to make their way south,some of which will spend the winter here in La Brenne. In answer to the many calls for other species to be helped I am in total agreement not just in Britain but here in France too. Turtle Doves here are a common sight in the Indre as are Sky Larks and Nightingales despite the hunting ,but I cant remember the last time I saw a Tree Sparrow or a Common Partridge. It appears that French farmers are catching on to the idea of bigger fields and taking out mile after mile of hedgerow with catastrophic results.Help needs to be chanelled to the most endangered species but with a London resturanter asking for Ortolan to be returned to the menu the message needs to be shouted much louder.
   Stephen Young, 05/11/14 20:03Report inappropriate post Report 
#12
I offer a comment on Stephen Young’s contribution although this is now veering away from the original subject on Cranes. Following Stephen’s final sentence I now realize that searching the internet for ortolan and restauranter is not easy as there seems to be many references to restaurants which include Ortolan in their name. However I did find a Telegraph newspaper article (I have no idea as to its accuracy) which noted that it is illegal to kill and cook Ortolans throughout the EC. I...more more
   Jeff Clarke, 05/11/14 21:48Report inappropriate post Report 
#13
Jeff, I looked up the article regarding the Ortolan Bunting story.The chef in question is Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester Hotel in London,apparently he has or is applying to have dispensation allowing him and presumably other restaurants to be able to legally serve these birds even though they are endangered. I did email him at the time but, as expected received no reply. Jeremy Clarkson apparently ate one when doing his tour of france program some years back and a former President of France ,Mitterand I think, had a feast of Ortolans for his last meal before he went extinct. Ortolans are protected in France but that doesn't mean much!
   Stephen Young, 06/11/14 00:58Report inappropriate post Report 

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