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Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust closes Willow Tree Fen between Baston and Spalding as pair of cranes return earlier than expected




Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust has closed Willow Tree Fen in the hope that the newly arrived pair of cranes will repeat the breeding success on the nature reserve last year – the first time the birds bred in Lincolnshire for 400 years.

Cranes form lifelong pair bonds and are very site loyal. The pair that nested at Willow Tree Fen were expected to return from their wintering grounds in February but arrived on today (Friday, January 22) and Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust closed the site with immediate effect. Cranes need peace and quiet, and to be socially distanced from people and dogs. Closing the site will give the cranes the best possible chance to nest in Lincolnshire for a second time.

Once the birds have settled in, a watch point will be set up at the entrance to the reserve to allow people to see the birds from a safe distance. A team of Crane Watch volunteers will be on hand to watch over the birds and help answer questions.

The cranes that bred at Willow Tree Fen between Baston and Spalding last year. Image by Nick Williams.
The cranes that bred at Willow Tree Fen between Baston and Spalding last year. Image by Nick Williams.

John Oliver, South-East Lincs warden for the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, said: “Willow Tree Fen was established to restore lost fenland habitat so the special wildlife associated with it could thrive.

"The fact that cranes chose to use the reserve in 2020 now makes this work nationally significant. Cranes hadn’t bred in Lincolnshire for over 400 years and remain a very rare bird in the UK. Only 23 chicks fledged in the whole country last year. However, they are very sensitive to disturbance, especially during the breeding season and do not tolerate humans or dogs. Keeping Willow Tree Fen open would lead to a very real risk of the birds deserting the area.”

The pair of cranes first arrived at Willow Tree Fen early last year. During the first lockdown there were virtually no human visitors to the reserve, creating the quiet conditions that the cranes needed.

As lockdown lifted, Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust made the decision to keep the reserve closed. This led to the successful fledging of the first crane chick in Lincolnshire since the 16th Century. A wide range of other wildlife also benefitted including otters, marsh harriers, water rails and bitterns. Images of all of these species were captured on trail cameras hidden on the reserve. Trail cameras have been installed on the reserve again this year to allow people to see the wildlife that uses the reserve without disturbing it.

Eileen Pearson, Crane Watch volunteer from Spalding said: “It’s wonderful that cranes have chosen to make Willow Tree Fen their home. We are very pleased and we should be proud that this was the first place in Lincolnshire that cranes nested after such a long absence from the county.”

Situated between Baston and Spalding, Willow Tree Fen is a relatively new nature reserve, transformed from arable land to a more traditional fenland landscape land to a more traditional fenland landscape.

When the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust bought Willow Tree Fen in 2009 it was intensively farmed arable land growing beans and cereals. Nature has recovered. Now a more traditional fenland landscape of shallow meres, seasonally flooded pastures, hay meadows and reedbeds, it is rich in wildlife. Many of our iconic wetland species are now thriving including lapwing, skylark, water rail, marsh harrier, shelduck, snipe, greater water parsnip, hairy dragonfly, spined loach, otter and now crane.



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