A record of 64 breeding pairs of cranes reared 23 chicks last year, bringing up the crane population to 200 birds.
Wild cranes that had become extinct in the UK 400 years ago are slowly but surely making a comeback. Each year, their numbers are rising and this year, 64 breeding pairs have been recorded, according to The Guardian. This is also the highest number of crane pairs to be making a comeback in recent years. These cranes that once called the UK’s wetlands and waterways their home are now coming back to once again claim it. After being hunted into extinction, conservation efforts have managed to bring the population back up to more than 200 birds now, with 23 chicks born just last year.
Cranes were once a common sight in the UK. Standing at around four feet tall, the birds that were well known for their courtship dances all but disappeared because of excessive hunting and loss of habitat. This was way back in the 1600s. It was only recent conservation efforts that have managed to reintroduce the cranes back to where they once belonged. In 1979, a small number of these wild cranes returned to Norfolk. Since then, conservation groups have been working together to ensure more and more of these birds come back to their natural habitat.
Excellent news! Crane numbers have hit record levels after becoming extinct in the UK nearly 400 years ago. Thanks to the efforts of conservationists, 64 pairs were present in 2020 – bringing the total population to over 200 birds 👏👏https://t.co/lQAeeNHObp pic.twitter.com/q7P0JSfdMM— Rewilding Britain (@RewildingB) February 9, 2021
Stephen Prowse, from the National Trust, told Discover Wildlife, “This is a significant milestone for cranes in the UK. The first wild breeding pair since the reign of Henry VIII was recorded on National Trust land in the Norfolk Broads. Careful protection has allowed their spread to the surrounding counties, with a significant breeding population now located in the Broads. With a focus towards more habitat creation in the future, we hope to see the fortunes of these amazing birds continue to improve.” The most significant conservation program was that of The Great Crane Project, formed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Wetlands and Wildfowl Trust (WWT.)
According to the Great Crane Project website, "For the 5 years 2010-2014, the Great Crane Project focused on the reintroduction of cranes into the Somerset Levels and Moors - 60,000 hectares of floodplain in the South West of the UK, dominated by extensive mixed pastures, meadows, and wetlands." To do this, the crane eggs are hand-reared at a facility in WWT built expressly for this purpose. After the eggs hatch and the chick is four months old, they are transported to the RSPB's West Sedgemoor Nature Reserve in Somerset and released after a short stay in a purpose-built pre-release enclosure. They are monitored to see if they can adapt to the wild.
The Great Crane Project managed to introduce 90 new cranes by 2014. They estimate a 50 percent rise in the crane population in the next 50 years. Andrew Stanbury RSPB Conservation Scientist had stated in a press release by WWT, "It is always great to get the opportunity to celebrate a real conservation success story and UK cranes is one of these. Thanks to a successful conservation partnership we are welcoming a charismatic species back to our countryside following a 400-year absence." The cranes have a life expectancy of 30 years and start mating when they are four-year-old. But every season one pair of birds can rear only one or two chicks. Damon Bridge, chairman of the UK Crane Working Group, said, “The return of cranes to the British landscape shows just how resilient nature can be when given the chance. If we want to see this success continue then these sites that cranes use and need must get adequate protection.”