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Crane numbers highest for 400 years after success of breeding project

PUBLISHED: 12:11 23 April 2020 | UPDATED: 12:11 23 April 2020

Crane numbers are now at their highest in 400 years  Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

Crane numbers are now at their highest in 400 years Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

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The UK’s population of cranes has reached its highest level for more than 400 years, conservationists have said.

Cranes have been reared at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve, near Fakenham  Picture: Ian BurtCranes have been reared at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve, near Fakenham Picture: Ian Burt

Common cranes became extinct in the UK centuries ago but have made a return in recent years, with a few birds recolonising naturally and conservation work and a reintroduction programme helping boost numbers.

The latest common crane survey has revealed a record 56 breeding pairs in 2019, with 47 attempting to breed and successfully rearing 26 chicks, bringing the total population to an estimate of more than 200.

The elegant birds, which stand more than 4ft tall, used to be quite common in the UK and were even served up at medieval banquets.

But hunting and the loss of their wetland habitat drove them to extinction in the 1600s.

CRanes are our tallest bird, standing more than 4ft high  Picture: Ian BurtCRanes are our tallest bird, standing more than 4ft high Picture: Ian Burt

A small number of wild cranes returned to the Norfolk Broads in 1979, and work by conservation groups to improve wetland habitat for them has seen them spread to other areas of the country.

The Great Crane Project by the RSPB, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) and the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust, was started in 2010.

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Since then cranes have been reared at Pensthorpe, near Fakenham, while the birds have also bred at WWT’s reserve at Welney and the RSPB’s Lakenheath Fen reserve in Suffolk.

The creatures were hunted to extinction for their meat  Picture: RSPBThe creatures were hunted to extinction for their meat Picture: RSPB

Numbers of the birds were seen at coastal sites in Norfolk last summer, including a group flying over Hunstanton.

The birds have also colonised other areas of the country, including the Somerset Levels.

Damon Bridge, chairman of the UK Crane Working Group said: “The increase of cranes over the last few years shows just how resilient nature can be when given the chance.

“With the support of our wonderful partners we’ve been able to recreate more and more of the cranes’ natural habitat, giving them a place to recuperate after the winter and raise their chicks.

“They are not yet out of the woods, but their continued population climb year after year is a very positive sign.”

Andrew Stanbury, RSPB conservation scientist said nature reserves played a vital role in supporting the growing crane population, with at least 85pc of the breeding birds found on protected sites.

And Dr Geoff Hilton, from the WWT said: “The success of the crane project to date demonstrates what can be achieved in a short space of time by giving nature a helping hand.”


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