Historic Easter egg laid at Slimbridge

Common Cranes displaying at Slimbridge WWT. Photo: Derek Cropton.
Common Cranes displaying at Slimbridge WWT. Photo: Derek Cropton.
A pair of Common Cranes has nested at Slimbridge Wetland Centre WWT, Gloucestershire, as part of the Great Crane Project reintroduction scheme.

The nesting success has raised hopes that they could rear the first successful chick hatched in the wild in the west of Britain since the 1600s. The nest is in front of one of Slimbridge’s public hides, allowing visitors unparalleled views of this normally unseen episode in the life of Britain's tallest bird.

The pair’s behaviour suggests they’re incubating an egg out of sight in their nest. It’s the latest instalment in a dramatic breeding season that’s seen daily fights and courtship displays, as cranes have paired up on the wetland reserve.

The adult cranes were released as fledglings in Somerset by the Great Crane Project, a partnership between the WWT, the RSPB and Pensthorpe Conservation Trust. The birds have extended their range up the Severn Vale to Slimbridge, where the public have a unique opportunity to see their breeding behaviour up close.

WWT Reserve Manager Dave Paynter said: “Breeding Common Cranes is one of the most exciting changes to Britain’s wildlife right now, and it’s playing out right in front of the hides here at Slimbridge. They’re big wetland birds, standing four foot tall with long bills, and they’re social creatures so we’ve been seeing plenty of interesting interactions between them out on the reserve.

“The pair that has already nested – named Monty and Chris – tried last year, but sadly lost their chick at just a few days old. We’ve got our fingers crossed that they’re that little bit wiser and more experienced this year, and will successfully rear the first fully-fledged crane in the west of Britain for over 400 years.

If an egg has been laid now, it will hatch in mid-May. The month-long incubation period will be tense for Monty and Chris, and for the staff at Slimbridge who will be closely guarding the nest site in case it is disturbed by egg collectors.

Cranes were once common throughout Britain but today the only trace in many parts is in place names such as Cranleigh, Cranmore and Tranmere (Tran- is from the Norse for crane). Over-hunting and the drainage of their wetland habitats led to their extinction as a breeding bird four centuries ago. In recent years, a small number has naturally started to re-colonise eastern Britain and the Great Crane Project has successfully established a large flock on the Somerset Moors and Levels.

The Great Crane Project's aim is to restore healthy populations of wild Common Cranes throughout the country, so that people can once again experience these beautiful birds.