Key role to bring cranes back

RICHARD PARR Visitors will have access from today to a pioneering project in Norfolk which is playing a key role in putting the European Crane back into the British countryside.

RICHARD PARR

Visitors will have access from today to a pioneering project in Norfolk which is playing a key role in putting the European Crane back into the British countryside.

The new conservation centre at Pensthorpe, near Fakenham, incorporates a purpose-built cranery housing the largest collection of cranes in the country, including eight of the world's fifteen species.

Cranes are considered as among the most magnificent of bird species, standing up to two metres tall with a wingspan of up to two-and-a-half metres.

The centre, which has emerged from the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust, chaired by well-known botanist and broadcaster Professor David Bellamy, is believed to be the first of its kind in the UK.

It has been designed specifically to offer the public close access to a range of conservation projects based on the re-establishment

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of native species, like the crane and the corncrake. The cranery was designed with input from the Wisconsin-based International Crane Foundation.

The foundation's co-founder George Archibald said: “The Pensthorpe Conservation Centre is making a unique contribution to the survival of cranes and other endangered birds through captive breeding, education, habitat management and preservation.”

The centre has been gradually developed over the past two years with the backing of more than £500,000 from both the public and private sector.

The complex, which opens today for the first time includes state-of-the art incubation, rearing and isolation rooms, crane and corncrake breeding pens.

Also on public view is a flock of greater flamingos, on breeding loan from the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust's flagship conservation centre at Slimbridge.

Opening of the new centre and its viewing hides

means that people can now view eight species in naturalistic enclosures planted with native wildflowers.

Park manager and senior aviculturist Andrew Reeve was appointed in his role at Pensthorpe for his expertise and knowledge in captive breeding of endangered species.

“As far as we are aware, we have at Pensthorpe the largest collection of cranes within the UK and we have had three species lay eggs already since the cranery has been operating.

“They are underage so the conditions suit them very well so as they reach maturity they should have no

problem getting fertile eggs,” he said.

He added: “It's unbelievable really, they normally take four to five years until they become mature enough to breed.

“But we have had females as young as two laying eggs and I've never heard of that anywhere else.

“I think it must be because of their habitat which suits them so well.”

The Pensthorpe Conservation Centre will be open from tomorrow. The admission charge for the nature reserve remains at £7 for adults, £3.50 for children and £5.50 for OAPs and includes entrance into the cranery and its viewing

hides. The reserve is open from 10am until 5pm.

For more information about the project contact Pensthorpe on 01328 851465 or visit www. pensthorpe.com

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