WWT - Wetlands for life

Project overview

The Great Crane Project aims to re-establish a sustainable population of the iconic Eurasian Crane to the Somerset Levels and Moors, a traditional stronghold for the species.

This will help to secure its future as a British breeding species and will engage the public, landowners and other interested parties with cranes and wider wetland conservation issues.

Background

For centuries, cranes have evoked strong emotional responses in people. Their size, elegant appearance, behaviour and haunting calls have inspired expression through human art, artefacts, mythology and legend in cultures around the world.

Once widespread in Britain, the Eurasian Crane is one of the world’s most flamboyant and iconic wetland birds.

Habitat loss and hunting led to its extinction as a breeding bird by around 1600, but since 1979 a small population has become resident in the Norfolk Broads. This population remains isolated and extremely vulnerable.

Objectives

  • To re-establish a sustainable population of Eurasian Cranes to the Somerset Levels and Moors, where they were once widespread

How WWT is helping

The Great Crane Project is a partnership between WWT, The RSPB, Pensthorpe Conservation Trust and Viridor Credits Environmental Company.

It aims to reintroduce Eurasian Cranes to the Somerset Levels, a part of the British countryside from which they have been absent for 400 years, thus helping to secure the future of the Eurasian Crane as a British breeding species.

Phase 1 of the project will involve the release of 100 juvenile Eurasian Cranes (20 per year for five years) between 2010 and 2014.

Juvenile cranes for reintroduction will be acquired as eggs collected under licence from the nests of wild birds living in an established population in Germany.

Eggs will be translocated to rearing facilities at WWT Slimbridge. At the rearing facilities, eggs will be hatched and the chicks hand-reared by the isolation-rearing (puppet/costume) technique used successfully to establish non-migratory populations of Sandhill Cranes and Whooping Cranes in the USA.

Extensive research has identified the Somerset Levels and Moors as the best reintroduction location in the UK, due to the availability of existing breeding and feeding habitat, and the potential for additional habitat creation.

Juvenile Eurasian Cranes, fitted with leg-rings and satellite transmitters to facilitate post-release monitoring, will be released from a purpose-built release enclosure.

The project will also engage landowners, the conservation sector and general public with crane reintroduction, and encourage its promotion as part of a sustainable rural economy in Somerset.

To this end, the partners will deliver a sustained programme of public engagement and PR throughout the project to highlight the potential of targeted conservation work for delivering wider wetland conservation benefits in Britain.

The Great Crane Project will be a ‘flagship’ project for the conservation and restoration of wetland landscapes and will encourage wide adoption of conservation-friendly land use.

Funders

  • Viridor Credits Environmental Company