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Eighteen months on from witnessing a Welsh-born crane take to the skies for the first time in 400 years, we risk losing the possibility of seeing such a spectacular sight in the future. Having made their home on the Gwent Levels in 2016, their future now lies in the hands of the M4 diversion. But how will we feel if we lose them from Wales for a second and, potentially, final time?

Image: Crane by Nick Upton.

The proposed M4 Black Route will have a devastating impact on nature and set a dangerous precedent for the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act because it prioritises economic gain over the environment, which the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, Sophie Howe, has described as being ‘against the spirit of the act’. The Gwent Levels are vital for rare wildlife like shrill carder bees and lapwings, as well as the cranes.

Cranes were a widespread breeding bird in the UK up to 1600, but were driven to extinction through wetland drainage and hunting for food. A small breeding population became re-established in Norfolk in the late 1970s, but this group appeared vulnerable.

However, against all odds, two cranes known as Lofty and Gibble reared a chick, Garan, on the Gwent Levels in 2016. The adults originate from the Great Crane Project which, from 2010, had been reintroducing cranes to the Somerset Levels. To get these birds back required the careful hand-rearing of young birds from wild-sourced eggs in Germany in a purpose built rearing facility at the WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre in Gloucestershire.

Successful initiatives with red kites and white-tailed eagles have shown that re-introduction projects can be very effective. Initial studies considered several UK wetlands for crane re-introduction and the Somerset Levels and Moors emerged as having the greatest potential. However, the conditions over on the Gwent Levels are also ideal for cranes. The Gwent Levels are relatively undisturbed with few major hazards, and the climate is relatively mild – the cranes certainly took a fancy to the area.

Yet all of this now has a question mark against it. The cranes, which recently made a comeback to our skies, now face being lost from Wales completely. Is this the Wales we wish to leave behind for our children? A country where wildlife plays second fiddle to the construction of unsustainable roads?

Together, we can stop this M4 diversion, create more sustainable ways of solving our transport problems and save the precious wildlife which depend on the Gwent Levels. Contact campaigns.wales@rspb.org.uk for more information.

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