Posted on Thursday, October 17th, 2013
Releasing a corncrake at the Nene Washes
Corncrakes are summer visitors to the UK, spending the winter in sub-Saharan Africa. They suffered a dramatic decline during the last century and disappeared from most of the UK except Western Scotland.
Their decline continued until the 1990s when they became the subject of a long-term conservation initiative. Farmers and conservationists in partnership have succeeded in trebling corncrake numbers in Scotland, but there has been no sign of recolonisation in other parts of the country.
In 2002, the first captive-bred corncrakes in a reintroduction programme involving Natural England, Pensthorpe Conservation Trust, the RSPB and the Zoological Society London, were released at the RSPB’s Nene Washes reserve in Cambridgeshire. The aim of the project is to establish corncrakes in Eastern England, and to investigate the possibility of future reintroductions in other areas of suitable habitat in the UK.
The young birds are bred in captivity at Whipsnade Zoo and Pensthorpe. Chicks are moved to pens on the Nene Washes reserve when they are 12-14 days old and released at 35-40 days old.
Three members of the great bustard LIFE project team had the opportunity to visit the Nene Washes in early September. We assisted with a release of young corncrakes, and found out about the progress of the project.
Male corncrakes can be surveyed at night by listening for their distinctive call, but systematic catching of corncrakes in breeding habitat is the only way to assess productivity. This year, 29 birds were caught, including a brood of ten flightless chicks. This is a record for the project, and an encouraging sign for the future after the reserve was flooded during the summer of 2012.
It was fascinating to have the chance to compare two reintroduction projects for two very different species. Lots of similar techniques and principles apply to both, and it is always interesting to meet other people involved in reintroductions. Hopefully the corncrake project will continue to make progress in the coming years.