With elegant wings and long necks, cranes have long held a mythological status around the world. But in the UK, the species hasn’t had much luck – until now. After more than three centuries, the British crane appears to be making a come-back with a record number of pairs sighted by conservationists.
Once threatened by hunting and marshland drainage, the UK’s tallest bird known for its impressive dance, is growing in numbers.
Its population has reached 72 pairs, 65 of which have mated to produce 40 offspring, according to the RSPB wildlife charity. This is an encouraging rise from the 26 chicks hatched in 2019, which was previously the highest on record.
This increase came after years of conservation work, creating and restoring Lakenheath Fen in Suffolk and Nene Washes in Cambridgeshire. Cranes have also been reintroduced to the Somerset Levels and Moors as part of a project started in 2010.
“The recovery of the UK crane population, now at its highest level since the 17th Century, showcases that conservation action can make a real difference,” said RSPB conservation scientist Andrew Stanbury.
The species was originally so common in Britain that it was a prime target for hunters, with 204 once being served up as part of one roast dinner for the Archbishop of York in 1465.
Due to excessive hunting and land management, they disappeared from Britain’s wildlife scene altogether about 400 years ago.
The restoration of their habitats has seen them flocking back and will have additional benefits for the climate.
Damon Bridge, chairman of the UK Crane Working Group, explained: “Although climate change poses a huge challenge for many species, opportunities to restore peatlands and floodplains to reduce carbon emissions and better manage increased flood risk can go hand in hand with the delivery of habitats perfect for cranes and other wetlands species.”
To help conservationists protect birdlife, donate to the RSPB.