19/05/2014
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Crane chick marks start of first wild generation for western Britain

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This newly hatched chick — filmed at WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre in Gloucestershire — could be the first wild-born Crane to survive in the west of Britain for 400 years. The parent birds were hand-reared by The Great Crane Project reintroduction programme and released as three-month-old fledglings on the Somerset Moors and Levels, where Cranes were once commonplace before disappearing in the 1600s due to hunting and habitat loss. Last year the parents managed to hatch a chick but it died before ever leaving the nest. This year footage of the newly hatched chick shows it swimming near the nest and looking healthy. Visitors to Slimbridge have been able to watch the chick from one of the public hides.


Crane chick with its parent (Photo: Graham Hann).

Conservationists behind the project hope this chick survives to adulthood and takes the reintroduction programme to the next stage.WWT Head of Conservation Breeding Nigel Jarrett, who helped design the reintroduction programme, first spotted the chick on the webcam that's been trained on the nest. He said: "It's incredibly exciting to be on the cusp of a new generation of totally wild cranes that will hopefully start to re-colonise parts of Britain that haven't seen cranes for four centuries. The chick hatching last year confirmed that the Cranes we hand-reared were physically able to breed. This year we've got everything crossed that everything goes in their favour and they can rear this chick. There's been an overwhelmingly positive response to the return of the Cranes from people across the west of Britain. They are a fantastic advert for restoring wetland habitats."

Damon Bridge, RSPB Project Manager for the Great Crane Project, said: "This is a very exciting moment in the reintroduction, and the hatching on the WWT Slimbridge reserve marks the start of a new phase for the project. The young cranes are learning and adapting to their new home in the UK and are still searching for suitable sites to successfully rear their young. I wish these two pioneering birds the best of luck over the next critical few weeks!"

A second pair has nested nearby and staff and visitors at WWT Slimbridge are watching carefully to see whether they too manage to hatch a chick. People wanting to see the crane chick can visit WWT Slimbridge in Gloucestershire every day between 9.30am and 5.30pm, or watch on the webcam at www.wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/experience/webcams/slimbridge-rushy-pen.

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Update 20 May — you wait 400 years and then two come along at once!

New pictures and video confirm Slimbridge Cranes Monty and Chris are the proud parents of two healthy chicks. The second chick was seen for the first time yesterday afternoon when they took their first walk away from the nest for their parents to feed them on grubs. On the video you can hear the amazed reaction of staff and visitors as they see them for the first time. The young family are being closely watched from the hides at Slimbridge and on the WWT webcam. So far they have stayed close to the nest site, indicating that there is plenty of food for the chicks. Cranes usually hatch two chicks, but when food is scarce one will perish. Crane chicks compete aggressively for food and already these two have been seen pecking and kicking each other. It is hoped the chicks can survive each other and any predators over the coming weeks so they become the start of a new wild-born generation of cranes in the west of Britian.

The Great Crane Project has reintroduced 76 cranes over the last four years and Nigel Jarrett's team is currently rearing one final group for release later this summer. The Great Crane Project is a partnership between WWT, RSPB, Pensthorpe Conservation Trust and Viridor Credits Environmental Company.

Written by: WWT