White Storks released in Surrey and Sussex


Last week 24 juvenile White Storks were released at the Knepp Estate in West Sussex, after the initiative to restore the species to southern England took a significant forward step.

The birds were hatched and raised at Cotswold Wildlife Park earlier this summer, before being transported to Knepp where they were initially kept in captivity. They were then released last week and, while most have remained on site, it's expected birds will roam around in the coming weeks and months.

The White Stork Project made headlines in the summer when a pair nested at Knepp for the first time. The project aims to establish at least 50 breeding pairs in southern England by 2030 through a phased release programme that will take place over the next five years. Initial releases of adult birds aimed at establishing local breeding populations has already taken place at Knepp, with these newly released youngsters hoped to supplement the population.

White Storks at the Wintershall Estate in Surrey, where the birds are now hoped to depart south in the coming weeks (Ed Stubbs).

A handful of other private sites have followed suite with releases. Other sites include Wadhurst Park, near Tunbridge Wells, East Sussex and the Wintershall Estate, near Godalming, Surrey. At the latter site, a couple of birds have hopped the enclosure fence but have not strayed far from the release site, where food and nest platforms continue to be supplemented.

All of the released storks have colour rings on their legs and sightings can be reported at www.whitestorkproject.org. Eight of the birds have satellite tags – indeed, one of these has already headed north from West Sussex to north Surrey: blue-ringed ‘GB20’ spent much of last week sat on the roof of a nursing home in Ottershaw. The White Stork Project hopes that in the coming weeks the released juveniles will attempt to migrate south for the winter, crossing over the English Channel and then joining up with other migrating storks as they head south through France and Spain before crossing the Strait of Gibraltar and the Sahara to West Africa.

The team at Cotswold Wildlife Park bred the young storks there from their captive population. Jamie Craig, Curator of Cotswold Wildlife Park, commented: “It does not seem long ago that we witnessed the first of these birds hatching out at the park and after months of hard work it was a fantastic moment to watch these birds leave the confines of the netted release pen and take flight – seeing these birds riding the thermals over Knepp is a sight we will not forget and we eagerly await what the future may hold for them.”

Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust is a key partner in the project, providing post-release monitoring expertise as well as work with the communities surrounding the release sites. Lucy Groves, Project Officer for Durrell, added: “Having looked after these birds since they arrived at Knepp, it was a joy to see them leaving the release pen and taking to the skies with our free flying adults. 

“I have been blown away by the response from our local community, many of whom have provided us with sighting reports which are crucial for helping us to understand the behaviour of these young storks. It will be interesting to see whether they decide to stay with our resident adults at Knepp or if they spread their wings and decide to fly south. This is an exciting milestone for the project and I will be following their progress closely.”