Majestic Welsh common crane takes flight after a four century wait

Daniel Jenkins-Jones

Thursday 6 October 2016

A Welsh-born common crane has taken to the skies of Wales, for the first time in around 400 years.

A pair of these spectacular wetland birds nested on the Gwent Levels this year, successfully rearing a single chick which flew for the first time in August.

The adult birds originate from the Great Crane Project1 reintroduction scheme which released ninety-three hand-reared cranes between 2010 and 2014 on the Somerset Levels and Moors area on the RSPB4 West Sedgemoor Reserve in Somerset2.

Standing at a height of 4ft, this graceful grey bird with a long, elegant neck and a drooping, curved tail-like bustle and whose deep sonorous call can be heard at a distance of over three miles, is a stunning sight.

Damon Bridge, RSPB manager of the Great Crane Project, said: "These wonderful birds died out across the UK sometime in the 1600s, having been a favourite of the medieval dinner table. Seeing them spread back into their former haunts highlights the importance of protecting our wetlands."

Cranes need very quiet, secluded, wet areas to breed, and an area of the Gwent Levels7 provided just the right mix of a secluded nest site and undisturbed, food-rich rearing habitat for this pair, which will almost certainly return again to breed next year.

Richard Archer, RSPB conservation officer for the Somerset Levels and the Severn Estuary, said: "Although most of the released birds have now reached breeding age, this Welsh pair is one of only three that have successfully reared young this year, so they are really crucial to the project's long term success. Cranes could do well on parts of the Gwent Levels if the habitat can be restored to its former glory".

The parent birds are known as Lofty and Gibble and the newly fledged chick has been given the name, Garan, the Welsh word for crane. All three have now returned to Somerset where they are likely to spend the winter with the growing flock of around 60 birds.

Nevertheless, having successfully raised a chick at the Gwent Levels, there's a very good chance that they'll return there to breed once again next year.

One pair successfully bred in Somerset and another in Wiltshire this year. The UK's wild crane population now stands at about 160 birds, roughly half from the reintroduction project and half from a natural re-colonisation that has been occurring in the east of the country since the late 1970s.

The Great Crane Project was funded by Viridor Credits Environmental Company6 and drew on the expertise of the RSPB, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust3 and the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust5.

You can find out more about the project and where to see the cranes in the wild at: www.thegreatcraneproject.org.uk

1. The Great Crane Project is a partnership between the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, RSPB and Pensthorpe Conservation Trust, with major funding from Viridor Credits Environmental Company. Our aim is to restore healthy populations of wild cranes throughout the UK, so that people can once again experience these beautiful birds.

2. For more information on the project, and regular updates, visit http://www.thegreatcraneproject.org.uk

3. WWT is a leading UK conservation organisation saving wetlands for wildlife and people across the world. With over 60 years experience of wetland conservation, WWT is committed to the protection of wetlands and all that depend on them for survival. WWT operates nine wetland visitor centres in the UK and manages over 2,000 hectares, including seven Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), one Area of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI), six Special Protection Areas (SPA), Part of one Marine Nature Reserve and six Ramsar sites, supporting over 200,000 waterbirds. WWT aviculturalists' extensive hand-rearing expertise is a vital part of the Great Crane Project.

4. The RSPB is the largest wildlife conservation charity in Europe. The Society manages over 200 nature reserves in the UK and has been involved with the reintroduction of red kites, white-tailed eagles, corncrakes and cirl buntings, with other partners, to parts of the UK. The RSPB owns and manages 3 major nature reserves in Somerset covering over 900 hectares, at West Sedgemoor, Greylake and Ham Wall.

5. The Pensthorpe Conservation Trust is a Norfolk-based conservation charity which has been working with Eurasian cranes for over a decade and has a small population of wild cranes already using its 500 acre reserve in the Wensum Valley. It's avicultural and satellite tracking expertise form an essential part of the Great Crane Project.

6. Viridor Credits Environmental Company distributes funding through the Landfill Communities Fund. Funding is available for community and environmental projects within 10 miles (priority to projects within five miles) of an active Viridor Waste Management Landfill site. Since 1996 Viridor Credits has allocated over £70m to over a thousand projects across the UK.

7. The Gwent Levels is one of the largest surviving areas of ancient grazing marshes and reen (drainage ditch) systems in Britain. An extensive area of farmed wetland, the Gwent Levels are home to a large concentration of wetland species. The whole area is designated under a series of adjoining Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Tagged with: Country: Wales Topic: Conservation