Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Common Crane reintroduction project gets underway

A breeding programme to boost the numbers of Common Cranes in English wetlands has got underway with the hatching of six chicks, the backbone of a new reintroduction scheme, at Slimbridge WWT in Gloucestershire. The chicks emerged from their eggs earlier this week, and will be raised in a semi-wild environment before being released at protected sites in 2009.

In historical times a widespread breeding species in British wetlands, cranes were over-hunted and their habitat destroyed, and by the 17th century they had become extinct. A tiny population became re-established in Norfolk in the late 1970s and breeding commenced in 1981, since when numbers have slowly consolidated.

Ironically, news of the captive hatchings and planned reintroduction scheme comes at the same time as wild birds have nested outside Norfolk for the first time in recent years, a pair being found breeding at Lakenheath RSPB in Suffolk.

The Wildfowl and Wetland Trust hopes that its Great Crane Project will restore a viable breeding population of 100 cranes to secret wetland sites in England over a five-year period from 2009. Nigel Jarrett, Aviculture Manager at Slimbridge, said: “These birds really do capture the imagination. Once you've heard their incredible bugling calls and seen their courtship dancing, the traditional British wetland would seem silent without them.”

Staff at Slimbridge will be rearing the six chicks using crane costumes and crane heads made out of litter pickers so that the birds don’t become too accustomed to humans.

These chicks will become the star attraction at Slimbridge’s new ‘Crane School’ from July, and will go on to train future generations of cranes that will be released into the wild as part of The Great Crane Project.

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Photo: Common Cranes at Lakenheath by Andy Hay (RSPB)