Cranes breed mainly in northern Europe, from Fenno-Scandia and north Germany, east through Ukraine and Russia to Siberia. In winter they migrate either southwest to France, Italy, Iberia and north Africa or southeast to the Middle East and northeast Africa. Originally widespread in Europe, numbers decreased in response to changes in agricultural practices and they virtually disappeared from the region in the 17th century. It was not until the 1960s that numbers began to increase again. Birds of Wiltshire noted that by the late 1990s the European breeding population was estimated to be between 22,800 and 28,000. Great Britain lies on the western fringe of their breeding range with, until recently, just a few breeding pairs in East Anglia, though significant numbers now pass through on migration.

            In 2010 the Great Crane Project was launched under which young cranes are raised from imported eggs at the WWT reserve in Slimbridge then transferred to be released into the wild at the RSPB reserve at West Sedgemoor in Somerset. By 2015 nearly 100 young birds had been released and in that year for the first time four pairs from the project hatched and raised a chick, including one pair at a confidential site in Wiltshire – probably the first successful breeding attempt in the county for at least 400 years.

            Otherwise in Wiltshire the first modern record was of one near Trowbridge in 1969; thereafter there were records in just seven years between 1969 and 2010. The initiation of the Great Crane Project in 2010 however has led to a steady increase in Crane sightings in Wiltshire: from 2011 onwards the annual bird reports in Hobby have included records, often multiple records, of Cranes in every year, culminating in 2015 when there were records from ten sites, ranging from Cricklade in the northeast to Tisbury in the southwest, involving 24 birds altogether.


The following references are used throughout these species accounts, in the abbreviated form given in quotation marks:

“1968-72 Breeding Atlas” – Sharrack, J.T.R. 1976:  The Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland. T. & A. Poyser

“1981-84 Winter Atlas” – Lack, P.C. 1986:  The Atlas of Wintering Birds in Britain and Ireland. T. & A. Poyser

1988-91 Breeding Atlas” – Gibbons, D.W., Reid, J.B. & Chapman, R.A. 1993: The New Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland 1988-91. T. & A. Poyser

Birds of Wiltshire” – Ferguson-Lees, I.J. et al. 2007 : Birds of Wiltshire, published by the tetrad atlas group of the Wiltshire Ornithological Society after mapping fieldwork 1995-2000. Wiltshire Ornithological Society.

“Bird Atlas 2007-2011” – Balmer, D.E., Gillings, S., Caffrey, B.J., Swann, R.L., Downie, I.S. and Fuller, R.J. 2013: Bird Atlas 2007-2011: the Breeding and Wintering Birds of Britain and Ireland

WTA2” – ("Wiltshire Tetrad Atlas 2 ") the present electronic publication, bringing together the Wiltshire data from “Birds of Wiltshire” and “Bird Atlas 2007-11”, together with data from further fieldwork carried out in 2011 and 2012.

"Hobby" - the annual bird report of the Wiltshire Ornithological Society.