GWENT Wildlife Trust (GWT) says rare cranes have returned to the Gwent Levels to breed on the route of the proposed M4.

Common cranes died out across the UK 400 years ago, so their return to the Gwent Levels has been welcomed, but GWT warns another manmade threat is threatening their future - the proposed M4 motorway.

GWT have been contacted by a number of members who have sighted the cranes in the past week or so, on and around the Gwent Levels and their nature reserve at Barecroft Common, areas where the proposed new M4 route will be built over.

It is thought the cranes spotted come from The Great Crane Project, a reintroduction scheme which released 93 hand-reared cranes between 2010 and 2014 on the RSPB West Sedgemoor Reserve in Somerset.

Thanks to the success of the scheme for the past three years, a pair of cranes have flown from Somerset, to breed on the Gwent Levels during the spring.

GWT’s deputy chief executive Gemma Bodé said: “It is really exciting news that the cranes have chosen to return to the Gwent Levels to breed once again. The precious habitat we have here on the Levels is perfect for them as they need very quiet, secluded, wet areas to breed successfully.

“However, the sad fact is that, once again, we could see local extinction of this wonderful and once native bird of the Gwent Levels with a new M4 motorway. Welsh Government’s proposed M4 route will rip through the Barecroft Common section of our Magor Marsh reserve and destroy the very area the cranes have recently been seen near to.”

Cranes look similar to herons but are much larger and make for a spectacular sight as well as sound - their deep call can be heard at a distance of more than three miles.

Dave Halse, a section leader at Wilko, Magor, contacted GWT after spotting the cranes overhead while digging his garden, in Magor last week.

The 54-year-old said: “They were circling above and this was my first sighting of them in flight, so it was quite exciting as they are such majestic birds. They make a very unusual call and at one point flew no more than 50ft above me.

“Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take any photos as I was digging the garden at the time but hopefully lots of other people saw them. The image of them is etched in my memory and I really hope to see them again.”

Wildlife photographer Hugh Gregory, of Portskewett, contacted GWT to say not only was he lucky enough to see one, but he also captured it on camera.

He said: “I was at Gwent Wildlife Trust’s Magor Marsh reserve and it was a bit of a damp day. I paddled through the waterlogged meadow to have a look at the geese, when I spotted what I first thought was a heron just over the reen in a neighbouring field, then suddenly I realised it was a crane.

“I couldn’t get my camera set up fast enough! It was there for some time and then slowly walked away over the field.

“It was a rare treat, very exciting to see and I managed to get some great photos of it.”