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This page contains 4 reader comments. Click here to view (latest Sun 15/01/17 12:40).

The latest Common Crane survey has revealed a record-breaking 48 pairs across the country in 2016 in a population of 160 birds, the highest number since cranes returned to Britain in 1978.

Common Crane was once a widespread breeding species before it became extinct through hunting and loss of wetland habitat around the 1600's. Then, in 1978 a small number of wild cranes returned to Britain and established themselves in a small area of the Norfolk Broads, before slowly spreading to other areas of eastern England, benefiting from work to improve their habitat at Lakenheath RSPB, Suffolk, and Nene Washes RSPB, Cambridgeshire.

In 2010, the Great Crane Project — a partnership between the RSPB, Wildfowl and Wetland Trust (WWT) and the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust, funded by Viridor Credits Environmental Company — set out to help this small population of birds. By improving the habitat they once called home and carefully hand-rearing young birds, the project aimed to restore healthy numbers of wild cranes throughout the country starting on the Somerset Levels, at West Sedgemoor RSPB.

The latest survey revealed 48 pairs across Britain in 2016 that raised 14 chicks to fledgling stage — two more than the average for the last five years, during which a fantastic 60 chicks have been raised by wild cranes significantly adding to the country's population.

Crane
Common Cranes, like these at Welney WWT, are becoming an ever-more familiar sight across Britain (Photo: Jane Rowe)

Damon Bridge, RSPB manager of the Great Crane Project, said: "To see [cranes] returning in ever increasing numbers to their former homes after all this time is an amazing spectacle that many more people will be able to enjoy, and a true reflection of how important our wetland habitat is to cranes and many other species."

The Great Crane Project released 93 birds in the South-West between 2010 and 2014, helping to secure the long-term future of the species here. Since the initial Somerset release, cranes have gone on to successfully raise chicks in Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and this year in the Gwent Levels — the first time cranes have nested in Wales for 400 years.

Rebecca Lee, WWT Principal Conservation Breeding Officer, said: "It's a dream come true. We devised the Great Crane Project so that we could kickstart a population of cranes here in the West [Country], in the hope that it would expand in tandem with those that had already settled in the east, and eventually the two would meet.

"It's still early days, but it seems to be happening. Cranes have now bred successfully in England, Scotland and Wales, and we're not far off 50 breeding pairs where just a decade ago there were barely a tenth of that. Cranes are well on track to become a true conservation success story for the UK."

Wild Common Cranes are now breeding in Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Yorkshire and East Scotland, alongside the reintroduced populations in Somerset, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire. The population is now roughly half from the Great Crane Project's reintroductions and half from the natural re-colonisation that has been occurring in the east of England for the last 30 years.

You can find out more about the project and where to see the cranes in the wild at www.thegreatcraneproject.org.uk.

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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 (4)

#1
A cynic might say that with patience the natural/wild population would have more than likely slowly recolonised the west country with time, given their natural spread to Cambs, Yorks and Scotland from their Norfolk/Suffolk stronghold. They are also 'wander-ers' with wild birds historically rocking up just about anywhere outside the breeding season, so it is likely that newly created or managed habitats would have been found and used. I wonder how different the genetics are of the wild and introduced groups, and what will happen when they do interbreed.
   Steve Portugal, 09/11/16 17:22Report inappropriate post Report 
#2
Although now in happily diminishing numbers, egg-collectors do still exist. I would suspect that the succesful re-introduction of Red Kites in various areas of the UK has now made the indigenous Welsh population much less of a target. If a collector were offered a Red Kite egg, they would always have the suspicion that it was from the introduced birds and therefore would have none of the prestige and value associated with eggs from the wild Welsh population. The same situation may now be relevant to the Crane population. It could be that the various re-introduction programmes are eroding the incentive to collect eggs from some rare British native species.
   Jeff Clarke, 09/11/16 22:31Report inappropriate post Report 
#3
Imagine if the amount of money, time and effort put into “saving” Common Cranes, White-tailed Eagles and Ospreys, all species of “Least Concern”, had been directed towards genuinely rare birds such as Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Slender-billed Curlew or Gurney’s Pitta. We have a warped sense of conservation priorities in the UK.
   Iain Robertson, 17/11/16 05:08Report inappropriate post Report 
#4
I am in total agreement with both Steve Portugal and Iain Robertson Wetland conservation and development is the easiest option for wildlife bodies to get success. RSPB, Wildfowl and Wetland Trust (WWT) and the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust, funded by Viridor Credits Environmental Company would be better spending their (in reality their subscribers/clients/investors) money on trying to reverse the decline of swifts, swallows, house martins, song thrush etc They are very good at patting themselves on the back but on their watch British bird species have been decimated
   Mark Bullen, 15/01/17 12:40Report inappropriate post Report 

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