THE first common crane egg laid in western Britain for more than 400 years has been given a round-the-clock guard, conservationists say.
The nesting pair that produced the egg are part of the Great Crane Project, which has been rearing cranes in captivity since 2010 and reintroducing them to the Somerset Levels and Moors where they would have been found centuries ago.
The egg laid at a nest at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust's (WWT) Slimbridge Wetland Centre is the first known to be laid by the project's cranes, which were hand-reared at the centre and the oldest of which only reached maturity this year.
Once widespread in Britain, the species was driven to extinction as a breeding bird by hunting and habitat loss by 1600, although a small population has been established in the Norfolk Broads since 1979.
A long lens video link has been set up to give visitors to the wetland centre and online a close-up view.
The cameras will also assist the guards to protect the egg against egg collectors.
Egg collecting has been illegal in the UK for almost 60 years but a few people still raid nests.
WWT's Nigel Jarrett said cranes were an iconic part of British wildlife that was all but lost for centuries.
"There is a long way to go before cranes become widespread again, but it is absolutely momentous to see this egg laid at Slimbridge," he said.