The UK could have as many as 275 breeding pairs of common cranes within the next 50 years, according to a population model from scientists at the University of Exeter, WWT and RSPB.
Cranes recolonised in England in 1979 after being extinct in the UK for over 400 years. According to the model, an important part of crane’s population growth was due to new birds arriving from Europe until 2010 when eggs were imported and fledglings released as part of the Great Crane Project. By 2014 the project had reinforced population numbers with 90 new birds. According to the model, these efforts will likely result in a 50% increase in the number of breeding cranes we can expect in 50 years time.
Professor Stuart Bearhop of the University of Exeter said: "Of course it is obvious that adding birds will boost the population size, but what we find here is that these additional birds, as they establish themselves and become breeders, are a key element in the future persistence of this charismatic species in the UK."
According to the WWT, with the number of cranes set to increase the next challenge will be ensuring there is enough suitable wetland available for them to safely breed. Conservationists are looking to restore whole landscapes, so that areas of habitat are bigger, better and joined up, which will benefit cranes and other species.
Dr Geoff Hilton, WWT’s head of conservation science said: "Previously, cost and uncertainty have put some conservationists off these type of interventions. However, delving deeper into the numbers for cranes shows that, in combination with good habitat management and protection, we can greatly accelerate the recovery of some of our most special wildlife, allowing more people to enjoy them more quickly."