Crane comeback continues as population reaches 400-year high


Cranes are flourishing with more than 200 now living in Britain – the highest number in 400 years, RSPB reveals

  • Cranes went extinct in Britain due to habitat loss during the early 17th century  
  • Conservationists have been steadily reintroducing the 4ft tall bird in Britain  
  • RSPB says there are more than 200 cranes now living permanently in the UK 

Cranes are more common in the UK than they have been since the early 1600s. 

More than 200 of the elegant birds are currently residing in Britain, according to the latest figures from RSPB.  

Common cranes went extinct in the UK centuries ago but have made a return in recent years.

A natural return of the 4ft tall bird has been helped along by conservation programmes reintroducing the bird to the UK. 

  

The latest common crane survey from the RSPB has revealed a record 56 breeding pairs in 2019, with 47 attempting to breed and successfully rearing 26 chicks (file photo)

Common cranes went extinct in the UK centuries ago but have made a return in recent years. A natural return of the 4ft tall bird has been helped along by conservation programmes trying to reintroduce the bird to the UK

Common cranes went extinct in the UK centuries ago but have made a return in recent years. A natural return of the 4ft tall bird has been helped along by conservation programmes trying to reintroduce the bird to the UK

The latest common crane survey has revealed a record 56 breeding pairs in 2019, with 47 attempting to breed and successfully rearing 26 chicks. 

Once a stalwart of the British countryside, they were even offered as a delicacy in medieval banquets.  

But hunting and the loss of their wetland habitat drove them to extinction in the 1600s.

A small number of wild cranes returned to Norfolk in 1979, and work by conservation groups to improve wetland habitat for them has seen them spread to other areas of the country.

The Great Crane Project by the RSPB, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) and the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust, and funded by Viridor Credits Environmental Company, was started in 2010.

Pictured, a three-week-old common crane chick at Slimbridge Wetland Centre in Gloucestershire. A small number of wild cranes returned to Norfolk in 1979, and work by conservation groups to improve wetland habitat for them has seen them spread across the UK

Pictured, a three-week-old common crane chick at Slimbridge Wetland Centre in Gloucestershire. A small number of wild cranes returned to Norfolk in 1979, and work by conservation groups to improve wetland habitat for them has seen them spread across the UK 

Pictured, animage from the RSPB of 18-month-old common cranes that were released by the Great Crane Project onto the Somerset Levels and Moors

Pictured, animage from the RSPB of 18-month-old common cranes that were released by the Great Crane Project onto the Somerset Levels and Moors

Cranes were once served at medieval banquets  

The 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. 

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.

It is intended to create and improve the crane’s natural habitat as well as helping to hand-rear young birds for release on the Somerset Levels and Moors. 

Damon Bridge, chairman 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 nature reserves played a vital role in supporting the growing crane population, with at least 85% of the breeding birds found on protected sites.

And Dr Geoff Hilton, from WWT, said the reintroduction of lost species had to be supported with good habitat management and protection, and thanked land managers and farmers for supporting crane conservation in Somerset.

He added: ‘The success of the crane project to date demonstrates what can be achieved in a short space of time by giving nature a helping hand.’



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