White storks reintroduced to Britain

White storks reintroduced to Britain

Last week a group of 24 juvenile white storks flew free after release at the Knepp rewilding project in West Sussex. This is part of an initiative to restore populations of the species in Southern England. All of the young storks carry blue leg rings, each with a unique number, in order to help identify them and best track their movements. Members of the public who spot the birds are encouraged to report their sightings on the White Stork Project website.

These birds were captive bred at Cotswold Wildlife Park from rehabilitated wild birds originating in Poland and France. Now the big question is whether the released birds will migrate south or  remain in the UK over the winter. The answer will depend both on the weather conditions and the availability of food. Nick Upton, who took the images, was really excited to see a flock of more than 20 storks in flight over Knepp. In his words, this is “likely the biggest group for centuries over the UK”.

White storks attempt to nest in Sussex

One of the first attempts by white storks to nest in  Britain for centuries occurred earlier this year in Spring 2019, also at Knepp Estate in West Sussex, which is one of the UK’s leading sites for successful rewilding.

Unfortunately, the eggs failed to hatch and the nest has now been abandoned. In fact, this is not an unusual occurrence with young and inexperienced birds, and it is hoped that there will be more positive news of breeding success in future years. There have also been unsuccessful nesting attempts in recent years in on buildings in Norfolk and Nottinghamshire, involving free-flying storks.

Nature Picture Library has exclusive images of the Knepp storks by Nick Upton, who has been working closely with the White Stork Project team. This project is a pioneering partnership of private landowners and nature conservation charities. Together they aim to restore a population of at least 50 breeding pairs of storks to southern England by 2030 through a phased release programme.

Partners in the project

Key partners in the project are Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Cotswold Wildlife Park, Knepp Estate and Dennis Wildlife Foundation.

Most of the birds in the reintroduction project have come from Warsaw Zoo in Poland. In addition, 15 birds were imported from Strasbourg in France. These birds are rehabilitated wild individuals, suitable for release. There is a captive breeding programme at Cotswold Wildlife Park, as shown in the images below. Here you can also see storks in a netted enclosure at Knepp, prior to release.

White storks in Britain

White storks were once widespread in Britain. Now conservationists hope that the project will re-establish a viable breeding population in southern England. Hopefully the birds will migrate south each winter along with the native European population. Small numbers of white storks already reach Britain every year as “overshoot migrants”. So it is likely that some of these will join the new breeding population.

More images of the White Stork Project will be available from our site as the project progresses – watch this space!

If you would like to see more of our coverage on this iconic bird, take a look at our new white stork gallery.