Cranes make historic Fens return

CHRIS BISHOP Cranes have been found breeding in the Fens for what is believed to be the first time in 400 years.

CHRIS BISHOP

Cranes have been found breeding in the Fens for what is believed to be the first time in 400 years.

The huge birds, with a seven foot wingspan and raucous bugling call, are nesting at the RSPB's Lakenheath Fen Nature Reserve, in Suffolk.

Staff there came upon a nest by chance while carrying out a routine survey of the site. It is believed the eggs are about to hatch or may already have done so.

Persecution and the large-scale drainage of the Fens for agriculture led to the common crane's disappearance as a breeding bird in the area by around 1600.

A small number returned to the Norfolk Broads in 1979 but while they have bred there successfully, the population has remained isolated and vulnerable.

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The common crane is a true wildlife spectacle. Their arrival at Lakenheath Fen offers hope that they may now be starting to spread into the Fens.

The RSPB's chief executive, Graham Wynne, said: "The arrival of cranes at Lakenheath Fen is fantastic news for the future of this species in the UK. It is also testimony to the truly inspirational work done at the site.

"We have gone from carrot fields to cranes in 11 years. Their decision to nest on the reserve was totally unexpected, very exciting and completely wonderful.

"Lakenheath Fen is a superb example of what can be achieved by restoring wildlife habitats on a large scale and proves that when it comes to wetlands, bigger really is better.

"Now, with the opening of our new visitor centre, we can really start to show people the great work that's been done here and bring them close to the nature on their doorsteps."

There is more on the way with the RSPB planning to create almost 20 square miles of new wetlands in the Fens over the next 20 years.

The society hopes the £700,000 visitor centre will help make Lakenheath Fen a gateway to the Fens and its native wildlife for tens of thousands of people, with visitor numbers increasing from 15,000 to 60,000 a year.

The centre was built thanks to generous funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Waste Recycling Environmental (WREN), which distributes landfill tax credits for Waste Recycling Group Ltd (WRG), Suffolk Development Agency and Suffolk County Council.

As well as the common cranes, Lakenheath Fen boasts six pairs of marsh harriers and brightly coloured golden orioles among its bird life, alongside more than 100 aquatic plants, whose seeds had lain dormant among the carrots before bursting back to life with the return of water to the site.

The amazing discovery comes as Lakenheath Fen prepares to throw open the doors to its new visitor centre later today.

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