UK crane population breaks further records in 2021


Common Crane continues its comeback after the latest breeding survey revealed a record-breaking 72 pairs across the UK in 2021.

Of these 72 pairs, up to 65 pairs bred and these fledged an impressive 40 chicks, significantly swelling the size of the UK population. The highest number of young fledged previously was 26 in 2019.

This means that Common Crane is present at its highest numbers since it returned as a breeder in 1979, centuries after becoming extirpated in the 1600s.

Some 72 pairs of Common Crane were present across the UK in summer 2021, with 65 breeding pairs producing 40 fledged chicks (Jim Mountain).

The concerted conservation effort on peatland restoration and wetland protection has significantly contributed to this recovery and nature reserves have played a vital role. More than 80% of the breeding population is found on protected sites, with 26 pairs on RSPB reserves alone. The total population is now believed to be in excess of 200 birds – also a new record.

Wild cranes were once widespread, before becoming extinct through hunting and  loss of wetland habitat. In 1979, a small number of wild birds returned to the UK and colonised a small area of the Norfolk Broads before spreading to other areas of eastern England. The creation and improvement of favoured habitat at sites such as Lakenheath RSPB and Nene Washes RSPB significantly aided this initial spread.

In 2010, the Great Crane Project gave the population a boost. By creating and improving existing habitat and carefully hand-rearing young birds, the project released healthy numbers of cranes on the Somerset Levels and Moors.

Damon Bridge, Chair of the UK Crane Working Group said: "The crane population is rapidly expanding. Although climate change poses a huge challenge for many species, opportunities to restore peatlands and floodplains to reduce carbon emissions and better manage increased flood risk can go hand in hand with the delivery of habitats perfect for cranes and other wetland species.

"Implementing these nature based solutions also bring opportunities for new sources of income to landowners, farmers and local communities via a mix of government subsidy, private investment in ecosystem services, and a growth in nature tourism and related business."

Andrew Stanbury, RSPB Conservation Scientist, added: "Last December saw the publication of the new UK Red list for Birds. Its finding were stark; more of our bird populations are in trouble. We need to act now if these declines are too reversed. The recovery of the UK crane population, now at its highest level since the 17th century, showcases that conservation action can make a real difference."

Norfolk Wildlife Trust's John Blackburn, Reserves Manager at Hickling Broad and Marshes, said: "We are delighted with the news of this record number of breeding crane and proud that NWT reserves were instrumental in the crane's early breeding success. The population is still growing in the Norfolk Broads, and NWT's Hickling Broad reserve alone boasts a possible eight breeding pairs.

"We are also seeing record numbers of crane at our winter roost site at Stubb Mill, with occasional counts of more than 70 birds."