Dennis the Eurasian crane settles at Pensthorpe

A protected crane which refused to be introduced into the wild has settled into captivity instead at a Norfolk nature reserve.

From the moment he arrived in Britain as a precious egg, Dennis was raised for a single, noble purpose – to pioneer a new start for his protected species.

But when the day came for the rare Eurasian crane to fulfil his destiny, he couldn't quite be bothered to spread his wings and fly off into the sunset.

So, after ignoring the call of the wild and frustrating the efforts of an army of conservationists, the headstrong youngster has packed his suitcase for a comfy life in Norfolk instead.

Dennis has arrived at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve, near Fakenham, where he will become part of a captive breeding flock in the hope that his valuable wild genes can be preserved.

He was one of 21 cranes released last week as part of the Great Crane Project, a plan to reintroduce the species to south-west England after an absence of 400 years.

The birds had been reared to behave like wild cranes at a purpose-built centre in Gloucestershire before being relocated to an RSPB release site on the Somerset Levels.

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Unfortunately, although his peers all got the idea of flying and foraging for themselves, Dennis did not – despite the flapping and waving of his camouflaged human mentor Roland Digby, of the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust.

'It seems that Dennis is just one of those souls happy to watch the world go by without making an effort to join in – I think we all know one or two people like that,' he said.

'On a serious note though, releasing Dennis into the wild would put him at risk of fox predation or accidental death, so he would be a menace to himself.'

Pensthorpe's new arrival is soon to be paired with a young female crane who, it is hoped, could tame Dennis' wilful ways.

Chrissie Kelley, head of species management at the reserve, said: 'We just hope she will become a mentor for Dennis. He obviously didn't get on with the cranes he was reared with, but she is an incredibly gentle character so we're hoping she'll make the perfect partner for him.

'Dennis doesn't want to do as he is told. He will never establish the behaviour he needs to be a wild crane, but he will be well looked after here, and we'll make sure he has the easy life.'

Dennis was one of 24 eggs brought over in a portable incubator from Germany, where a successful population of wild cranes can be found.

There are believed to be only about 50 Eurasian cranes living in Britain, with 15 breeding pairs in East Anglia, following the loss of the birds' wetland habitat through land drainage and intensive farming.

Pensthorpe reserve manager Tony Durkin said: 'Now that Dennis is here, he is incredibly important. The blood line he is from is pure wild and in future when he is paired up with a female, the breeding results could be very important for the release programme.

'How magnificent it would be if the calls of these birds could be heard here as they fly over houses. That's the privilege they have in Germany, and that's what we aspire to do here. We're doing it so the whole of the British population can appreciate this magnificent bird.'

The Eurasian crane is one of seven species being bred at Pensthorpe for the Great Crane Project, which the reserve joined in 2005 to help re-establish the birds in UK wetlands. The partnership also includes the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and the RSPB, with funding from Viridor Credits Environmental Company.

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