Last summer, the breeding population of cranes in the UK reached its highest numbers in centuries.

Last summer, the breeding population of cranes in the UK reached its highest numbers in centuries.

The crane, which is the tallest bird in Britain and thrives in wetland habitats, had a successful breeding season last summer with the highest numbers seen since its extinction in the 16th century.

In 2023, there were at least 80 pairs of cranes observed, surpassing the previous record of 72 pairs from two years prior. Despite their unique bugling calls, these birds are difficult to spot during breeding season as they tend to hide in reedbeds. However, they were able to successfully raise and release at least 36 chicks.

In 1979, a species that engages in intricate spring mating rituals returned to east Norfolk to breed after originating from Scandinavia. The population was kept confidential for a significant amount of time and gradually expanded.

In recent times, its growth has been enhanced by a program that reintroduced cranes that were raised by hand to the larger wetlands in the Somerset Levels.

The majority of Britain’s marshland has been depleted, developed, and ruined, accounting for over 75% of the total area. However, there have been efforts to restore certain wetlands which have aided in the recolonization of Wales, Scotland, and nature reserves throughout England, such as those in Lincolnshire.

Damon Bridge, chair of the UK Crane Working Group, said: “The continued success of these amazing birds is showing us that conservation action works. We need to build on this foundation by safeguarding protected sites and creating larger, better-connected wetland areas across the UK to fully reap the benefits this vital habitat can provide for nature and people.”

Andrew Stanbury, a conservation scientist at RSPB, expressed appreciation for the government’s recent plans to invest £16 million in rehydrating peatlands and the second round of the Landscape Recovery Fund, which aims to achieve net zero goals by restoring marshland. Wetlands serve as efficient carbon sinks and also house a variety of species that are at risk of disappearing.

Stanbury stated that in order for wildlife and people to thrive, we need to escalate our efforts and accelerate our progress in restoring protected areas and landscapes by 2030.

During the breeding season, it can be challenging to locate cranes. However, in the winter, Britain’s growing population of 250 cranes can often be observed gathering and flying in flocks to rest in reedbeds at dusk.

John Blackburn, the warden at Hickling, a reserve managed by Norfolk Wildlife Trust near the area where the birds initially re-established themselves, stated: “Aside from the annual breeding of cranes on several of our sites in the Norfolk Broads, there is nothing quite like witnessing dozens of these magnificent birds returning to roost at sunset – a truly stunning display of nature that visitors can experience at our Hickling Broad nature reserve every winter.”