Page last updated at 07:44 GMT, Thursday, 26 February 2009

Cranes to be reintroduced to UK

Crane chick being taught by model crane adult
The WWT plans to expand its crane "school", which it started in 2007

A programme to reintroduce cranes to UK wetlands has received a 700,000 grant to build a rearing facility for chicks.

The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) in Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, began a crane-breeding scheme in 2007.

The metre-high bird was extinct in the UK for four centuries and now only has a tenuous foothold in Britain.

The Somerset Levels have been identified as the best location to release the cranes when they have matured.

The WWT's crane-breeding programme involved a crane "school", in which chicks were raised by keepers wearing crane suits and fed using customised crane head litter pickers to prevent them becoming used to humans.

The new rearing facility will be a scaled-up version of the crane school model.

Eggs will be brought from a flourishing wild population in Germany and incubated, hatched and hand-reared at Slimbridge.

Dr Debbie Pain, WWT's director of conservation, said: "Cranes are magnificent birds that were driven from their wetland habitats and hunted to extinction long ago.

"Thanks to lessons learnt in crane school we now have the feathery-fingered skills to raise crane chicks.

"Roll on 2010 - we cannot wait to begin teaching these amazing birds how to live in British wetlands once again."

Patrick Capper, chief executive of Taunton-based Viridor Credits, which provided the grant, said he hoped the project would act as a beacon for conservation activity across the UK.

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