Damon Bridge, RSPB Somerset Project Manager, reveals some promising stats on how Somerset's cranes are faring after the Great Crane Project reintroduction...
How are Somerset's Cranes doing? Well…we will know soon! The crane volunteers are geared-up and ready to get out there trying to read colour rings over the next few months as the cranes start to gather together in their winter flocks on Somerset’s Levels and Moors. This monitoring will establish the final figure for the year, but we think at the moment around 58 of the original 93 cranes that were released between 2010 and 2014 survived. This survival rate of over 60% is very good – and much higher than expected.
Photo above of Somerset Cranes by John Crispin
In addition to the founding flock, since the released birds first bred successfully in 2015, 17 young have fledged. It is thought that 16 of these second generation birds are still alive, so the total number of cranes as a result of the reintroduction is about 74 – or around 40% of the entire UK’s population. Some of these second generation birds are now also at breeding age and next year we may even get our first third generation birds.
The 2018 breeding season saw an incredible 22 pairs of reintroduced birds make nesting attempts - the highest number to date, and more than double the number that nested in 2017 (10 pairs). 13 of these 22 pairs were in Somerset – with the rest in South Wales, Gloucestershire, and Oxfordshire. 17 of the 22 pairs reached hatch stage too, which is a dramatic increase as the previous record number of pairs to hatch in any particular year was seven in 2017. The increase in hatching success may be due to the birds’ ability to learn through experience – perhaps by choosing safer, more secure nest sites, or improving their ability to defend successfully against predators.
These 17 hatched nests produced a minimum of 19 chicks - six of which finally went on to fledge. It is often not possible to see how many chicks the cranes have as they lay either one or two eggs, which quickly become one or two very small fluffy chicks in tall hay meadows. Three of these fledged chicks were in Somerset, all from RSPB West Sedgemoor Reserve - and the other three were in Gloucestershire on the Wildfowel and Wetland's Trust's Slimbridge reserve. Other years have seen chicks fledge from South Wales, Wiltshire, and other sites across the Somerset Levels.
The fledging success rate was disappointing this year, we had certainly hoped for more, and the productivity rate of 0.27 chicks per pair is lower than the non-reintroduced birds in the east of England, but the general trend is all in the right direction. See below graph…
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