Once-lost bird reaches new heights as comeback continues

Common Crane, Grus grus, confirmed breeding of at least one pair at Lakenheath Fen RSPB reserve. Suf

Common crane populations reached a new high in 2020 as their conservation comeback continues - Credit: Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

A bird which became extinct in the UK 400 years ago has continued its recent comeback with a new high of 64 pairs recorded last year.

The common crane, which stands 4ft tall and is famous for its dancing courtship displays, was once common across East Anglia.

But the birds vanished from this country in the 1600s as a result of hunting and a decline in their wetland habitat.

A small breeding population re-established itself in Norfolk in the late 1970s, and since then conservation work has helped the species stage a remarkable recovery, said wildlife experts.

The birds have been helped by the Great Crane Project, championed by the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust based near Fakenham, in partnership with the RSPB and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.

The project has created and improved wetland habitats, as well as hand-rearing young birds for release on the other side of the country at the Somerset Levels and Moors.

The latest survey shows a record 64 pairs across the UK in 2020, which produced 23 chicks - taking the total estimated UK population to more than 200 birds.

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And more than half of the cranes which have fledged in the UK since 1980 have fledged since 2015, said conservationists.

Damon Bridge, chairman of the UK Crane Working Group, said: "The return of cranes to the British landscape shows just how resilient nature can be when given the chance.

"If we want to see this success continue then these sites that cranes use and need must get adequate protection."

At least 85pc of the breeding population is found on protected nature reserves, the survey shows.

Conservationists want to see strong protection for wetland habitats where cranes make their home, and which support a wide range of other wildlife, as well as providing protection from floods and storms and storing carbon.

Andrew Stanbury, RSPB conservation scientist, said: "If we want to see this amazing achievement repeated across the UK, governments must take action to designate the most important sites for this iconic species as part of the UK's protected area network."