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BBC TV’s Countryfile visits Pensthorpe Natural Park

25 Sep 2019


Countryfile find out more about conservation work with endangered species Corncrakes and Red Squirrels 

Watching Countryfile and its engaging reports on rural, agricultural and environmental issues is an essential part of our weekly calendar. So, we were delighted when BBC TV’s Countryfile got in touch to say that they wanted to report on some of our conservation work with corncrakes and red squirrels.

John Craven came to visit us here at Pensthorpe to find out about the work we are doing to protect the future of one of Britain’s most endangered birds, the corncrake – one of our rare summer visitors and known for its ‘crex crex’ call. Corncrakes were once widespread throughout the UK, but their numbers declined during the 20th century due to the mechanised and earlier mowing of grass crops, destroying their vegetation.

John met with our Head of Species Management, Chrissie Kelly, and our aviculturist, Kat MacPherson, to find out how we are Britain’s only breed and release programme for corncrakes and how the area around Fakenham is now one of the few places where people can still hear the rasping noise of corncrakes, a sound that was lost for almost a century.

Pensthorpe Conservation Trust has bred around 500 corncrake chicks, feeding the newborn chicks around the clock – thanks to our wonderful team for their dedication! It takes around four weeks from egg to releasing the young corncrakes and great effort is made to ensure that they don’t get used to humans and can survive in the wild – meaning feeding chicks with gloves and through a curtain!

Ideally, corncrakes need low-level grazed wetland meadows, full of insects and wildflowers, with plenty of nettle beds. We work closely with the Upper Wensum Cluster Farm Group to protect areas of grassland full of vegetation that the corncrakes thrive in before making the long migration to Central Africa. The farmers play a crucial work in the breeding project as they ensure they have the right vegetation in which to nest, feed and breed. Many thanks to the farmers and our wonderful neighbours for all their support. 

The corncrakes are bred and reared at Pensthorpe, and given health checks and leg rings before they are released so that they can be identified when the adult birds, hopefully, return after migrating. Countryfile also found out about our new programme of getting adult birds to rear their own young. Presenter John Craven even helped us release some young corncrakes into the wild in the Wensum Valley!



Pensthorpe Conservation Trust’s work with red squirrels and the East Anglian Red Squirrel Group was also highlighted and three of the red squirrels born at Pensthorpe in May were even named by presenter Margherita Taylor. To follow the stud book, the red need to be named after the letter I and Countryfile chose the names Idyll, Indiana and Ignacious.

The population of red squirrels England is thought to be as low as 15,000 and many of Pensthorpe’s kittens have been released on the Isle of Anglesey as part of a managed release programme, bringing the population on the Island from 40 individuals to over 700 now living there. Pensthorpe has recently heard from Clocaenog Red Squirrel Trust in Denbighshire, who were sent Pensthorpe breeding pair, Domino and Fizz, that they have successfully bred in the wild, with the hope that the project will replicate the success of Anglesey. Radio collars help them to track the squirrels so that we can evaluate the project.  

To find out more about Pensthorpe Conservation Trust, click here.