The UK’s tallest bird, the common crane, was extinct in the UK for 400 years before returning to the East of England in 1979. Cranes breed slowly and their numbers remained low, leaving them at risk of a second extinction. In 2010 conservationists started to import eggs and release fledgling cranes in the West of England as part of the Great Crane Project. By 2014 90 birds had been reared and released – which could mean as many as 275 breeding pairs within 50 years, according to the latest population model from scientists at the University of Exeter, WWT and RSPB.
Professor Stuart Bearhop of the University of Exeter said: “Of course it is obvious that adding birds will boost the population size, but what we find here is that these additional birds, as they establish themselves and become breeders, are a key element in the future persistence of this charismatic species in the UK”
Cranes start to breed when they’re around four years old and can live for 30 years or more, rearing one or two chicks a year.
Dr Geoff Hilton, WWT’s Head of Conservation Science said: “Previously, cost and uncertainty have put some conservationists off these type of interventions. However, delving deeper into the numbers for cranes shows that, in combination with good habitat management and protection, we can greatly accelerate the recovery of some of our most special wildlife.”
The future for cranes in the UK now looks positive thanks to the efforts of the UK Crane Working Group and the Great Crane Project, a partnership between the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, RSPB and Pensthorpe Conservation Trust. Its aim is to restore healthy populations of wild cranes throughout the UK, so that people can once again experience these beautiful birds. http://www.thegreatcraneproject.org.uk
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