Appeal for help to save Fakenham’s corncrakes

Nature-lovers are being asked to listen out for one of the bird world’s most distinct cries in a bid to gauge the success of a Fakenham breeding programme.

Organised by Pensthorpe Natural Park, the breed and release programme was organised to boost numbers of corncrakes, once widespread across the UK, but now in decline with numbers at their lowest since 2003.

Chrissie Kelley, head of species management, said: “These fascinating, rare, farmland birds are seriously under threat so we are appealing for help from local birding groups and members of the public to listen out for the distinct rasping cry of the corncrake.

“We can only start to understand the success of our efforts by determining the numbers of returning birds. We hope by engaging support we will gain a clear understanding of return success.”

After making the 8,000-mile migratory round trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Corncrakes spend the winter, the birds will start to return to the UK at the end of April and into May.

Last year, 154 corncrakes were hatched and reared by the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust team, including a dedicated ‘corncrake nanny’ who lived on site to help with late night feeding.

The birds were released from a location within the Wensum Valley in the summer of 2017 and it is hoped that 15 to 20 per cent of these birds will return to the area in spring, ready for the breeding season.

Success of the 2017 release can only be determined by listening out for and recording the location of the “crex crex” call of the male birds which is characteristically loud and made at night.

By keeping a record of the numbers of detected birds, Pensthorpe can calculate how many of the birds have survived the winter and migration to return to the area.

Anyone who hears the call should email crex@pensthorpe.com or post @wensummonitors on Twitter using the hashtag #corncrake.