The boardwalk out to the floating NWT information centre at Ranworth Broad is, after my local patch of Thorpe Marshes, one of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust nature reserves that I most regularly visit. An information board there features cranes – though you’d have to be very lucky to see a crane here – and that board reminds me, each time I see it, how things have changed for the better for cranes in just a few decades.
I have to declare an interest here in two ways. Firstly, as co-author, with the late John Buxton of Horsey Hall, of The Norfolk Cranes’ Story
. The book charts the return of the crane to the Broads, starting with two cranes at Hickling in September 1979, then breeding at Horsey and, much later, elsewhere in the Broads. The book recently came out in paperback and is on sale at NWT centres at Cley, Hickling and Ranworth.
Secondly, in my three decades on the RSPB’s staff, I had a hand in crane protection, hence the collaboration on the book. Some protection schemes are very much in the public eye – little terns in east Norfolk, for example – but there were also RSPB contract wardens helping crane protection at Horsey for a decade, a fact kept as quiet as possible, rather like the cranes’ presence there in the 1980s.
That’s quite a contrast to today when cranes can feature on a much-viewed information board. This reflects how crane numbers and range have grown and that they might be seen or heard in any of the Broadland river valleys. Another example is that management work on the expanded NWT nature reserve at Upton Broads and Marshes has cranes in mind, as arable is returned to marshland – though naturally benefitting a wide range of other wildlife.
If you want to see cranes the best place is, of course, Hickling. Cranes can be secretive in the breeding season but a visit to the raptor roost viewpoint at Stubb Mill is as good a place as anywhere to watch for cranes.
People often talk to me about cranes, particularly when I do talks about them, and it’s striking that often I’m told an anecdote that shows a real emotional attachment to this magnificent bird. Their size and their rarity must play a part, though I’d put their call high on any list of their appeal. There is something about a bugling crane that is irresistible. How splendid it is for me, as an NWT volunteer and guide, that my wildlife trust should be playing a big part in keeping cranes as an everyday part of the Norfolk Broads.