Another record year for UK Common Crane population


Common Crane had another record-breaking year across the UK in 2023, with a modern-day high of 80 pairs attempting to breed.

This number of pairs is the highest since the species was driven to extinction across the country in the 16th century through overhunting and habitat loss. Common Crane's comeback began with the arrival of just a small number of wild birds to the Norfolk Broads. The population has continued to slowly spread, with 2023's results building on the previous high of 72 pairs in 2021 and good numbers in 2022.

Figures released on World Wetlands Day also showed that 36 Common Crane chicks successfully fledged in 2023 and the total UK population is now believed to be in excess of 250 individuals.

Alongside a reintroduction project where hand-reared cranes were released on the Somerset Levels and Moors, conservation efforts to restore and protect the UK's wetlands have been key to turning around the species' fortunes. Nature reserves have played a vital role and more than 80% of the breeding population are now found on protected sites, including over a third on RSPB nature reserves alone.

Common Cranes at Willow Tree Fen LWT, Lincolnshire, which is one of the best UK sites to see the species (Glyn Sellors).


Back from the brink

Damon Bridge, chair of the UK Crane Working Group, said: "The conservation and protection of UK wetlands is helping our crane population go from strength to strength. But that's only part of the story. Wetlands support countless other magnificent species, lock away carbon to fight climate change and can hold back water to help reduce the impact of flooding.

"The continued success of these amazing birds is showing us that conservation action works. We need to build on this foundation by safeguarding protected sites and creating larger, better-connected wetland areas across the UK to fully reap the benefits this vital habitat can provide for nature and people."

The species has increased in various parts of its British range in recent years, with four pairs nesting in Lincolnshire in 2023 following their return to the county in 2020, as well as breeding records in Ireland, Oxfordshire and the Suffolk coast for the first time in hundreds of years.


The importance of wetlands

John Blackburn, Norfolk Wildlife Trust Reserves Manager, added: "The continued comeback of our cranes provides heartening evidence that by working in partnership across the landscape, and with the right governmental support, we can combat the biodiversity crisis we currently face. 

"In addition to cranes breeding on a number of our sites in the Norfolk Broads each year, nothing rivals the sight of dozens of these majestic birds coming in to roost at twilight – a real wildlife spectacle that visitors can enjoy at our Hickling Broad nature reserve each winter."


The best places to see Common Crane

Several UK reserves offer a great chance to see Common Cranes. Although the birds are elusive during the breeding season, they are easier to see at other times of year. Some of the spots where sightings are regular are listed below.