The Great Crane Project

The Great Crane Project team has ambitious plans to re-introduce European cranes to the south west of England, helping to restore a healthy population throughout the UK.

 Common or Eurasian crane Grus grus, families compete aggressively for food in maize stubble field, during autumn migration period, Hohendorf


Cranes were a widespread breeding bird in the UK up to 1600, but were driven to extinction through wetland drainage and hunting for food.
A small breeding population became re-established in Norfolk in the late 1970s, but this group appeared vulnerable. It was considered that successful recolonisation of the UK from the Norfolk population would be unlikely to occur unaided in the foreseeable future.
Successful initiatives with red kites and white-tailed eagles have shown that re-introduction projects can be very effective. Initial feasibility work looked at a number of UK wetlands for crane re-introduction and the Somerset Levels and Moors emerged as having the greatest potential.
The Levels are relatively undisturbed with few major hazards, and the climate is relatively mild.


  • Rearing of up to 100 crane chicks from wild-laid eggs taken by agreement and under licence from nests in Germany.
  • Release of up to 100 juvenile cranes on the Somerset Levels.
  • First breeding of released cranes by 2015.
  • Establishment of a breeding population of around 20 pairs of cranes in Somerset by 2025.


  • The Great Crane Project was established in 2009.
  • Releases of cranes took place between 2010 and 2014, with 93 birds successfully released overall.
  • The survival of released birds is just less than 80 per cent to date.
  • Territorial and nesting behaviour was observed in 2013 and in 2014 one pair successfully hatched chicks. Unfortunately these chicks did not survive to fledge.
  • 2015 has seen an incredible 16 pairs form and hold territories, many in the Somerset Levels and Moors, but others in South Wales, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and East Somerset. Of these pairs, three successfully fledged fours chicks.
  • The project has been working to create new suitable crane breeding habitat across the Levels and Moors so the project can achieve its target of 20 breeding pairs by 2025. Currently works have been carried out on the RSPB's own landholding at West Sedgemoor and Greylake and on private land in the surrounding area.

Planned Work

The Great Crane Project will continue to monitor and protect the released birds, and ensure suitable habitat is maintained and created to help re-establish former numbers in wetlands throughout the UK.


Coast on a stormy day

Damon Bridge

Project Manager, RSPB
Tagged with: Country: England Habitat: Farmland Habitat: Grassland Habitat: Wetland Species: Crane Project status: Ongoing Project types: Species protection