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A secret revealed

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It’s 40 years since cranes returned to the Broads in Norfolk having been absent as breeding bird from the UK for some 400 years. Chris Durdin, co-author of The Norfolk Cranes’ Story, tells their story.
This is the 4th and final blog of four blogs. The full story is in The Norfolk Cranes’ Story book, which recently came out in paperback. See www.norfolkcranes.co.uk for how to buy a copy.

A secret revealed When the cranes first returned to Horsey, secrecy was an important part of protecting them. It helped that cranes have a knack of disappearing from view during the breeding season. There were rumours that the birds were ‘escapes’, which discouraged some birdwatchers from wanting to see them. 
But it would be easy to be unrealistic about how secret the Horsey cranes were: they are large and sometimes noisy birds and word of their presence spread. As the veil lifted somewhat, information was published in bird reports and books. But we remain cautious about saying where cranes nest.
After th…

Cranes in the UK – a brief history

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It’s 40 years since cranes returned to the Broads in Norfolk having been absent as breeding bird from the UK for some 400 years. Chris Durdin, co-author of The Norfolk Cranes’ Story, tells their story.

This is part 3 of four blogs. The full story is in The Norfolk Cranes’ Story book, which recently came out in paperback. See www.norfolkcranes.co.uk for how to buy a copy.

Cranes in the UK – a brief history The return of cranes to Norfolk is a recolonisation – a distinction worth making in view of the reintroduction project in the West Country. But exactly how many cranes used to breed in Britain and Ireland is far from clear – hardly surprising as they may not have bred since the 17th century.
The only proof of breeding in the literature is an account of a payment for a ‘young Pyper crane’ at Hickling in 1543.
Nearly 300 place names start with Cran, Carn or Tran, from the Old Norse or Anglo-Saxon names for crane. That suggests cranes were common and widespread, though some of these place n…

Why did cranes come to Horsey in Norfolk?

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It’s 40 years since cranes returned to the Broads in Norfolk having been absent as breeding bird from the UK for some 400 years. Chris Durdin, co-author of The Norfolk Cranes’ Story, tells their story. 

This is part 2 of four blogs. The full story is in The Norfolk Cranes’ Story book, which recently came out in paperback. See www.norfolkcranes.co.uk for how to buy a copy.

Why did cranes come to Horsey in Norfolk? What we didn’t know in the 1980s is that cranes in eastern and northern Europe were increasing in numbers and their range was spreading westwards. With hindsight, that first colonisation more than three decades ago looks almost inevitable. At the time, it felt like the cranes had a very tentative and vulnerable toehold in Britain.
Why choose Horsey? The coastal location plays a part, for a migrant bird. It’s a relatively quiet part of the Broads, with large and undisturbed reed and sedge beds suitable for nesting. These are close to open grazing marshes and arable where the crane…

'The biggest bloody herons'

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It’s 40 years since cranes returned to the Broads in Norfolk having been absent as breeding bird from the UK for some 400 years. Chris Durdin, co-author of The Norfolk Cranes’ Story, tells their story. 
This is part 1 of four blogs. The full story is in The Norfolk Cranes’ Story book, which recently came out in paperback. See www.norfolkcranes.co.uk for how to buy a copy.


“The biggest bloody herons.” That was the farmer’s description of two birds on the marshes at Horsey in September 1979. At the other end of the phone was John Buxton from Horsey Hall, who the excited farmer had phoned.
John guessed they were cranes, not least as it wasn’t the first time they’d been seen, as migrants, in the Horsey area. But this time it was different; these birds decided to stay.

The two cranes were seen in the Hickling-Horsey area from 13th September 1979 and a third bird joined them during October. They stayed all winter, sometimes feeding in potato fields. In early April they left, but returned two an…

Three swans a-swimming … on the path!

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Blog post from NWT Thorpe Marshes by Chris Durdin on 16 December, 2019. Written with NWT blog in mind, published here in case it helps anyone coming to the guided walk on 17 December.


Mute swans on the flooded path at Thorpe Marshes.
“Streets full of water. Please advise.” It’s a famous telegram about Venice’s canals, certainly tongue-in-cheek, and though the wording and origin is disputed, the spirit of the quip came to mind as I walked around NWT Thorpe Marshes.
The path through the marshes was under water after recent high tides. Three mute swans were surprised to see me as I waded along the path while I took the usual circuit around the reserve. It was that way round – the swans being surprised, not me. When the reserve is flooded the swans seem to choose the flooded paths over the ditches and water-filled marshes. There was a half-hearted hiss as I went past the trio, as if to say, “This is our kind of place today, what are you doing here?”
NWT Thorpe Marshes gets inundated by the ti…

Drinking water at Stansted Airport

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The lack of a water fountain in the main departure lounge at London Stansted Airport continues to bug me. I went through there recently, with Honeyguide’s Picos de Europagroup, and again there was no public water fountain to re-fill water bottles after security.
Stansted Airport advises that catering outlets will fill water bottles, which from my experience is true. The kind people at Pret a Manger did this for me and other Honeyguiders, with such speed and charm that it suggests the request is likely and expected. But how many others would think to ask? That service is not advertised.
Why does it matter? It could be argued that access to drinking water is a basic human need. But for me it’s all about reducing single use plastic. It’s easy to buy bottled water from any number of retail outlets. That won’t stop, but access to a fountain or tap would reduce the volume of plastic water bottles sold and used once.
You’d have to deaf and blind not to realise that single use plastic is an env…

Bee orchids bounce back

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Regular readers will know that I keep a regular eye on some bee orchids that grow outside Big Yellow Self Storage on Canary Way, opposite Norwich City FC’s football ground.

I made my regular visit to count them on 7th June 2019. A rather gloomy day was brightened by counting 42 flowering spikes of bee orchids. Last year they’d dwindled in number to less than ten, and I feared it was the beginning of the end for them. Not so: more the end of the beginning as The Meadow in the Citygoes into a new phase.
In the early years, the bee orchids were on the grass opposite the football ground. Now most of them are growing around the corner. It helps that this year the Big Yellow team has organised that all the grass around two sides of the warehouse-like building has remained uncut. Credit where credit is due: there was reluctance to do this when I first broached the subject in 2009, but now I don’t even have to remind them. Even without the orchids it’s a delight: bumblebees were collecting nect…