Crane numbers have hit record highs after becoming extinct in the UK nearly 400 years ago.
- The most recent joint crane survey showed that in 2020 there were 64 pairs of cranes, which corresponds to a total population of over 200 birds.
- Cranes became extinct in the UK about four hundred years ago, but after some birds have been naturally repopulated and extensive conservation work, including a reintroduction program, these amazing birds are returning.
- Common crane are the largest bird in the UK, standing at 4 feet. They are legendary for their dances; complex displays with loops, pirouettes and bobs that take place every year between man and woman.
Crane numbers have hit record highs after becoming extinct in the UK nearly 400 years ago. Thanks to the efforts of conservationists, 64 couples were present in 2020.
The UK’s largest bird, at 4 feet, used to be quite common, but a combination of hunting and wetland decline led to extinction in the 17th century.
Common Crane, copyright Glyn Sellors, from the Surfbirds Galleries
Small numbers of wild cranes returned to Norfolk in 1979 and conservation groups have worked together to promote more and more of these birds. They have since expanded to other areas of the UK and are benefiting from improved habitat like the RSPB’s Lakenheath and Nene Washes Reserves. Over half of all cranes that have fled the UK since 1980 have fled since 2015 – so the past five years have been incredibly productive.
In 2010, the Great Crane Project – a partnership between RSPB, WWT, and the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust funded by the Viridor Credits Environmental Company – began creating and improving existing habitats and hand-raising young birds for release on the Somerset plains and back Moors.
All conservation efforts to restore moors and protect wetlands have produced impressive results. Last year, 64 pairs were born across the UK and gave birth to 23 chicks. Nature reserves have played an important role. At least 85% of the breeding population is in protected areas, a third in RSPB reserves alone. The total population is now estimated at over 200 birds – a new record.
Damon Bridge, UK Crane Working Group Chair, said, “The return of cranes to the UK countryside shows how resilient nature can be when given the chance. If we are to continue this success, these locations that use and need cranes must be adequately protected. “
Andrew Stanbury, RSPB Conservation Scientist, said: “Thanks to the commitment of individuals, the UK Crane Working Group and conservation organizations, we are pleased that the number of cranes continues to grow. The government has already highlighted cranes as one of several species that have not yet received strong protection for the areas in which they live. If we want this amazing feat to be repeated across the UK, governments must take action to designate key locations for this iconic species as part of the UK network of protected areas. “
John Blackburn of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust said, “This is a result of the improvement and expansion of important wetlands. The Norfolk Wildlife Trust prides itself on the fact that our Broadland Reserves are not only the cradle of our growing crane population, but also their favorite stronghold, and testify to the dedication of NWT employees. “
Stephen Prowse of the National Trust said: “This is an important milestone for cranes in the UK. The first wild breeding pair since the reign of Henry VIII. Registered on National Trust land in the Norfolk Broads. Careful protection has allowed them to spread to the surrounding counties, with a significant breeding population now in the Broads. With the aim of creating more habitats in the future, we hope that the fate of these amazing birds will continue to improve. “
February 2nd marks World Wetlands Day, with the focus this year on wetlands and water. Wetlands provide protection from floods and storms, with each acre of wetland holding up to 1.5 million gallons of floodwater. Not only do these important locations help regulate the climate – bogs store twice as much carbon as forests, salt marshes, mangroves, and seagrass soils also contain large amounts of carbon – they are also home to thousands of species, including cranes.