A breeding programme to boost the numbers of common cranes in wetlands across the UK has begun.
The cranes will be released into the wild in 2009
Six common cranes, the backbone of a reintroduced breeding population into the UK, have been hatched at a nature reserve in Gloucestershire.
The chicks emerged from their eggs at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust in Slimbridge, earlier this week.
They will be raised in a semi-wild environment before being released at protected sites in 2009.
The crane is Britain's tallest bird. Its distinctive bugling call, which can be heard from more than three-and-a-half miles away, was once a common sound across British wetlands.
But the birds were over-hunted and their wetland habitat destroyed, and became extinct in the UK in the 17th Century.
A tiny crane population was established in Norfolk in the late 1970s and they have since gone on to breed sporadically.
It is hoped Slimbridge's Great Crane Project will restore a viable breeding population of 100 cranes to secret protected wetland sites in England over a five-year period from 2009.
Nigel Jarrett, aviculture manager at Slimbridge, said: "These birds really do capture the imagination.
"Once you've heard their incredible bugling calls and seen their courtship dancing, the traditional British wetland would seem silent without them."