Common crane at Pensthorpe

Crane population hits record levels

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24 Apr 2020

Cranes make a comeback to the UK

The Common crane (also know as the Eurasian crane) was lost from the UK for nearly 400 years, but thanks to conservation efforts their population numbers have once again hit record levels.

These birds, the tallest in the UK at 4ft, used to be quite common however. They are fabled for their dances; complex displays with bows, pirouettes and bobs, which take place every year between the male and female. They were even frequent fixtures at medieval feasts – Henry II’s chefs cooked up 115 of them at his Christmas feast in 1251, but a combination of hunting and wetland decline led to their extinction in the 1600s.

In 1979, a small number of wild cranes returned to Norfolk and conservation groups have been working together to encourage more and more of these birds. They have now spread to other areas of the UK, benefitting from improved habitat such as at the RSPB’s Lakenheath and Nene Washes reserves as well as Natural England’s Humberhead Peatlands, colonising Scotland into 2012 and Wales in 2016.

In 2010, the Great Crane Project – a partnership between the RSPB, WWT and the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust, and funded by Viridor Credits Environmental Company – joined the movement. The project creates and improves existing habitat, as well as hand-rearing young birds for release on the Somerset Levels and Moors.

All the conservation effort has yielded impressive results, with 56 pairs across the UK last year. Of these, up to 47 pairs attempted to breed and they raised 26 chicks. The total population is now believed to be over 200 birds – a new record.

Damon Bridge, Chair 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: “Thanks to the dedication of individuals, the UK Crane Working Group and conservation organisations, we are delighted to see crane numbers continuing to recover. Nature reserves have played a vital role. At least 85% of the breeding population are found on protected sites, with a third on RSPB reserves alone”.

The Pensthorpe Conservation Trust based here at Pensthorpe has been working with Eurasian cranes for over a decade and has a small population of wild cranes already using our 700-acre reserve here in the Wensum Valley. Our aviculture and satellite tracking expertise form an essential part of the Great Crane Project.

Chrissie Kelley, Head of Species Management here at Pensthorpe Conservation Trust, says: “We are thrilled to see wild cranes doing so well. Seeing these birds in flight is breath-taking and we have regular sightings of them over our reserve.”

For more information regarding the conservation projects here at Pensthorpe please visit our Conservation Trust pages.