Extinct for over 400 years, common cranes are finding homes in the UK’s wetlands and waterways once again.
Due to conservation efforts that began in 1979, the common crane now numbers nearly 200 individuals in the country, with more than 60 breeding pairs.
Famous for its courtship displays, The common crane, or Eurasian crane, was driven to extinction in the UK in the 17th century due to hunting and loss of wetlands.
However, there is a new attitude to wetlands, and conservation groups and governments around the world are implementing strict protections in special ecosystems that are more biodiverse and contain more carbon than forests.
Organizations such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Wetlands and Wildfowl Trust (WWT) have partnered with other groups to create The Great Crane project, intended for a massive translocation of birds from Germany to breeding grounds in UK wetlands.
The success of the big crane
Between 2010 and 2014, the project saw 93 birds transported to the southwest of England. the latest survey results recorded 64 breeding pairs across the UK in 2020, within whose nests 23 chicks squawked.
In 2018, the WWT estimated that the current rate of reproduction would see cranes reach 275 breeding pairs in the next 50 years.
Unidentified cranes, once a rarity at the Somerset Moors breeding site, now they arrive regularly, and even mate with resident birds with tracking rings around their legs. Scientists have no idea if these aliens are from the Scottish or mainland population, or if they are Somerset cranes that migrated and returned. Given that a generation without ring tags has now been raised, it is impossible to tell.
It is a sign that genetic diversity is flowing through the new UK cranes, ensuring that they remain healthy and resistant to disease and genetic defects – both major challenges in restoring the population of any species.
The next challenge is ensuring that there are enough suitable wetlands available so that they can be reproduced safely. Conservationists seek to restore entire landscapes so that habitat areas are bigger, better, and connected, benefiting cranes and other species.
“It’s always great to have the opportunity to celebrate a real conservation success story and UK cranes is one of them,” said Andrew Stanbury, RSPB conservation scientist, at a statement. “Thanks to a successful conservation partnership, we are welcoming a charismatic species to our field after a 400-year absence.”
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