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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 June 2007, 13:50 GMT 14:50 UK
Crane breeding programme launched
A crane being fed by a lookalike
The cranes will be released into the wild in 2009
A breeding programme to boost the numbers of common cranes in wetlands across the UK has begun.

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.

'Capture imagination'

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."

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