How the first flock of British cranes since the 16th century were set free

Conservation & Preservation

A fly-past not seen for 400 years:How the first flock of British cranes since the 16th century were set free
By David Derbyshire
Last updated at 8:11 AM on 8th September 2010

Its piercing cry echoed over our marshes and wetlands - until it was hunted to extinction.
But 400 years on, the crane is making a comeback.
Experts who want to return the species to its former habitat have hatched eggs from Germany and are reintroducing a flock of 20.

Test flight: Two cranes explore their territory after being released into the wild.Test flight: Two cranes explore their territory after being released into the wild 
 

The fledglings, which were brought up in a Wildfowl and Wetland Trust centre in Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, in the spring, were given their first taste of the wild last month.

 


In ten years, it is hoped their population will flourish, just as nature intended.
Breeding cranes vanished from Britain in the 16th century, the victims of hunting and draining of the wetlands.
Since then, practically the only birds seen in the UK were those passing through to breeding grounds overseas.
And although a small colony was established in Norfolk in the 1980s, the group has remained vulnerable.

Experts have gone to great lengths to ensure the latest group's survival. The birds are mature enough to be set free at a secret location in the ancient Somerset Levels wetlands.


Hatching a plan: Wearing hooded bird suits designed to stop cranes bonding with humans, ornithologists holding feeding sticks (circled) release a bird

 

But they are so impressionable that none of the team dares go near them unless they are dressed in suit and hood designed to make them look like a bird, in case the cranes bond with humans.
Ornithologists involved in the programme, the brainchild of the RSPB and the WWT, use litter sticks painted to resemble crane necks and heads to feed them. And wooden cut-outs of cranes are used to attract the birds to safe feeding grounds.
Project manager Damon Bridge said: 'This is such an exciting time. From first collecting the eggs back in April our aviculturalists have been working round the clock to give these birds all the care and attention they need.
'Every day we are leading the birds out of their enclosure and getting them used to the wild.
'It'll be great to see them leave the fold and make their own way in the world.'



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