A round-the-clock guard has been set up to protect the egg from collectors, as despite egg collecting being illegal in the UK it is still practiced by an unscrupulous minority. Video cameras are in place to allow the public to view the nest, as well as to provide important footage for conservation scientists. Lucky visitors can also view the nest from the centre’s bird hides.
The common crane was once widespread across the UK, but became extinct in the region by the early 1600s as a result of hunting and the destruction of its wetland habitats. In the 1980s, a tiny group of birds began breeding in eastern England, but this population remains small.
In an attempt to re-establish breeding cranes across the UK, The Great Crane Project has been working to reintroduce common cranes to western England since 2010. Chicks have been reared in captivity before being reintroduced to the wild, and the oldest have now begun to reach maturity.
Although one pair of cranes from the project built a nest at the reintroduction site on the Somerset Levels, it was sadly abandoned. The pair of birds at Slimbridge are the first of the released birds to have laid an egg.
This first egg is an exciting step forward in bringing back the common crane as a breeding species across the UK. Most cranes don’t usually breed successfully until they are five years old, so more breeding attempts are likely in the coming years.
According to Nigel Jarrett, Head of Conservation Breeding at WWT, “Cranes are an iconic part of British wildlife and one that was all but lost for centuries. There is a long way to go before cranes become widespread again, but it is absolutely momentous to see this egg laid at Slimbridge.”
“The parents of this egg were hand-reared here at Slimbridge and have thrived through their first three years on the wetlands of the Somerset Moors thanks to the help and support of the local community, particularly the farmers.”
The Great Crane Project aims to introduce around 100 resident birds by 2015 to help secure the future of this magnificent and iconic species.
Read more on this story at WWT – 24 hour guard for western Britain’s first crane egg in four centuries and BBC – First crane egg in 400 years laid at Slimbridge.
Find out more about The Great Crane Project.
View more photos and videos of common cranes on ARKive.
Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author