Record number of common cranes in UK

Harry Bellew

Monday 7 November 2016

• Latest common crane survey reveals record breaking 48 pairs across UK in 2016 with a total population of an estimated 160 birds - its highest number since they returned to the UK in 1978 after an absence of more than 400 years
• The Great Crane Project, a partnership between the RSPB, WWT and the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust, has been instrumental in supporting the increase in numbers after successfully hand-rearing and releasing 93 cranes into the Somerset Levels and Moors between 2010 and 2014
• Common cranes can now be seen in Norfolk, Suffolk, Yorkshire, East Scotland as well as released birds in Somerset, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and South Wales.

The common crane has continued to make a comeback after the latest survey revealed a record breaking 48 pairs across the UK in 2016 with the total population now at an estimated 160 birds - its highest number since cranes returned to the UK in 1978 after an absence of more than 400 years.

Standing at a height of 4ft, this graceful grey bird with a long, elegant neck is one of the tallest in the UK. Wild cranes were once a widespread breeding species before they became extinct through hunting and the loss of their favoured wetland habitat around the 1600's.

In 1978, a small number of wild cranes returned to the UK and established themselves in a small area of the Norfolk Broads before slowly spreading to other areas of eastern England, benefiting from work to improve their habitat at RSPB Lakenheath and RSPB Nene Washes.

In 2010 the Great Crane Project - a partnership between the RSPB, WWT and the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust funded by Viridor Credits Environmental Company - set out to help this small population of birds. By improving the habitat they once called home and carefully hand-rearing young birds the project aimed to restore healthy numbers of wild cranes throughout the UK starting on the Somerset Levels and Moors, on the RSPB's West Sedgemoor Reserve.

The latest crane survey revealed 48 pairs across the UK in 2016 that raised 14 chicks to fledgling stage - two more than the average for the last five years. Over the last five years, an incredible 60 chicks have been raised by wild cranes significantly adding to the UK population.

Damon Bridge, RSPB manager of the Great Crane Project, said: "The crane was once an iconic species in Britain, its echoing call could be heard throughout the English countryside, as well as spots in Scotland and Wales. But it was wiped out from Britain over 400 years ago because of hunting and the draining of its favoured wetland habitat.

"To see them returning in ever increasing numbers to their former homes after all this time is an amazing spectacle that many more people will be able to enjoy and a true reflection of how important our wetland habitat is to cranes and many other species."

The Great Crane Project released 93 birds in the south west of England between 2010 and 2014 helping to secure the long-term future of wild cranes in the UK. Since the initial Somerset release cranes have gone on to successful raise fledging chicks in Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and this year in the Gwent Levels - the first time cranes have nested in Wales for 400 years.

Rebecca Lee, WWT Principal Conservation Breeding Officer, said: "It's a dream come true. We devised the Great Crane Project so that we could kickstart a population of cranes here, in the west, in the hope that it would expand in tandem with those that had already settled in the east, and eventually the two would meet.

"It's still early days, but it all seems to be happening. Cranes have now bred successfully in England, Scotland and Wales, and we're not far off 50 breeding pairs, where just a decade ago there were barely a tenth of that. Cranes are well on track to become a true conservation success story for the UK."

Wild cranes are now breeding in Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Yorkshire and East Scotland, as well as populations in Somerset, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire. The population is now roughly half from the Great Crane Project's reintroductions and half from the natural re-colonisation that has been occurring in the east of England for the last 30 years.

You can find out more about the project and where to see the cranes in the wild at:

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. The RSPB is the UK's largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.

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.

4. 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 aviculture and satellite tracking expertise form an essential part of the Great Crane Project.

5. 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.

Last Updated: Tuesday 28 August 2018

Tagged with: Country: England Country: UK Topic: Conservation Topic: Giving Nature a Home Topic: Habitat conservation Topic: Reserves Topic: Species conservation