I ran across Aller Moor this morning. The weather was perfect but the ground was difficult, sharp under my shoes. It was a tricky stumble rather than a smooth run because the deep ruts of mud had dried hard as cement. I feared for my ankles. We need some rain! From ancient times, the Somerset Levels were designed to be wetlands. We are accustomed to the drains and ditches that cross our paths and order our ways. It is a finely balanced and managed habitat of course. In the Winter of 2013-14 there was far too much rain, the water had nowhere to go and homes and land were inundated for months.
So somewhere in between would be just perfect, because our wildlife is specific to the area too. Many of our species prefer to have their toes in the water. It is particularly important for our famous cranes, who need the watery ground to keep them safe when they roost and nest.
They live very near to us, but for such a large and noisy bird, they are remarkably elusive. With their necks down to feed, they blend perfectly with the land and look completely at home. At around four feet tall, with pewter pearl plumage and black and white necks and faces, Common Cranes are fairytale birds. They are members of an ancient family that once thrived in our wetlands and shared our history. Spectacular and charismatic, they have extraordinarily good eyesight and a haunting, trumpeting call. They feed on invertebrates and roots in the wet grassland and roost in the safety of shallow, open water. They play in the wind, throwing sticks into the air and chasing after them, they dance a crazy, leaping display and they pair for life. They disappeared from our shores hundreds of years ago
But in recent years the Great Crane Project has managed a successful reintroduction and there is a stable flock of around 70 young birds. Imported as eggs from Germany, they were raised at Slimbridge and released down here. They are learning their life skills and each year gives us more and better breeding success. Each bird has a unique combination of coloured rings on its legs and most have been named by local primary schools. The project has been remarkably successful.
Back on Aller Moor, I could hear the cranes gabbling and bugling beyond the misty lines of willow. And then finally they were up and off: soaring in formation, they cried to the wind. They are distinctive in flight because they are usually in noisy groups. And unlike the heron they stretch out their necks and trail their long, long legs.
I am very glad they have returned to our landscape.