Rare cranes return to nature reserve in greater numbers
Cranes became extinct in the UK in the 1600s, but after some flew in from the continent populations are now slowly rising.
A flock of rare cranes has returned to a nature reserve in increased numbers in a conservation success.
The Welney wetland nature reserve, on the border of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, counted 21 cranes in 2016 and that has risen to 33 this year.
The long-legged grey birds breed at private sites in the Cambridgeshire Fens then migrate to Welney around September to forage.
Emma Brand, of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) Welney Wetland Centre, said: “They’re all able to fly and they go out on the washes.
“They’re picking up seeds, small insects, they particularly like some of the washes the cattle have been in. They’ve also got the maize fields. It’s quite a spectacle to see them now in these bigger numbers.”
It is warm enough for cranes to remain in the UK through the winter, but they are expected to leave Welney by late October for other nearby habitats as water levels rise and it gets busier with swans and ducks.
Cranes went extinct in the UK in the 1600s, but some flew in from the continent and populations are slowly rising.
There is a tiny breeding population in eastern England, with around 40 to 50 in the Fens and a further 40 to 50 on the Norfolk Broads.
There is also a population on the Somerset Levels, where they were introduced as part of a conservation project.
“We’ve got a really precarious situation in the UK,” said Ms Brand. “They’re in increase at the moment but in small numbers.
“It would be lovely to see them more common in the future.
“It’s an encouraging sign to see more being added to the population each year.”
She said cranes were rare in the UK, and were prone to abandoning attempts to breed if they were disturbed.
Past populations declined due to shooting and loss of wetland habitat, though they are now increasing.
While crane populations are larger on the continent, they are in decline.