Having played a small part in the early stages of this story, I have to declare an interest. I worried about being objective here but in the event that was not a problem: this slim volume tells such a straightforward and honest story (and tells it so well) that coming to a fair conclusion about it was easy. Quite simply, it is splendid. It will find a fully deserved place on my shelves alongside those other classics of its genre, George Waterston’s The Return of the Osprey (1962), John Love’s The Return of the Sea Eagle (1983) and Roger Lovegrove’s The Kite’s Tale (1990).
The authors have divided their book into three parts. The second of these covers a range of subject matter, from a brief history of the Common Crane Grus grus in the UK to a useful description of the ‘Crane country’ at and around Horsey (in the Norfolk Broads) and its conservation management to assorted observations on the birds’ behaviour. The third part, written by Nick Upton, provides an overview of the status and fortunes of Cranes in Europe, spiced up with a commentary on his efforts to film them.
It is the first part of the book (more or less the first half, in fact) that I like best. This is John Buxton’s account of what happened following the appearance of those first two birds back in 1979. It is very much a personal story, strongly reflecting not just his determination that these new colonists should succeed but also what has become a very deep affection for them. This is good old-fashioned bird protection, and none the worse for that. We are taken through all the highs and lows, the optimism and the disappointment, the disasters and the small triumphs, from the encouraging beginnings of the early 1980s to the ‘lean years’ of 1989 to 1996 and, finally, on to the much better times that followed.
Looking back to those early years, I recall that there were some who treated the Horsey story with some cynicism – even ridicule. Their criticisms were unjustified then and seem silly now in the light of what this book tells us. That apart, future generations will regard The Norfolk Cranes’ Story as an important contribution to the historical literature of UK bird conservation. John Buxton and Chris Durdin deserve our thanks for telling us the story so well.
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