There is significant evidence to show that white storks were once a breeding bird of Britain, with an archaeological record stretching back 360,000 years.
White storks are particularly associated with the county of Sussex. The Saxon name for the village of Storrington, near Worthing, was originally “Estorchestone”, meaning “the village of the storks”. A pair of white storks still feature on the village emblem. Other place names in the area, such as Storwood and Storgelond, evoke the historical presence of the birds here.
A number of private landowners, namely Knepp, Wadhurst, and Wintershall, located in West Sussex, East Sussex and Surrey respectively, are helping to establish a breeding population of free-living white storks in Britain once again. This project is being carried out in partnership with the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, Cotswold Wildlife Park, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, and Warsaw Zoo. Click here to find out more about the partners.
The estates have constructed purpose-built predator-proof pens covering about six acres each. A total of 166 rehabilitated wild-fledged white storks from Poland, as well as a small number of others from northern France, have been released into these pens over the course of the last three years, in order to establish local breeding populations. This is based on the successful approach used to restore white stork populations in many parts of Europe over the last 50 years. Many of these birds are now free-flying and living in the local area. This includes a pair that has built a nest on the top of an oak tree close to the stork pen at Knepp. In time it is hoped that up to twenty breeding pairs will become established at each site. In addition, captive-bred first year birds raised at Cotswold Wildlife Park will be released in late summer to boost the establishment of a population and to encourage migratory behaviour. A similar methodology has been used successfully in southern Sweden which, like England, lies at the northern edge of the white stork’s breeding range.
The pens will become the focal point of future stork populations and it is encouraging to note that passing wild storks have already been attracted in by the presence of the released birds. This indicates that, in time, wandering storks from Continental Europe will give a further boost to the local population.
To report your own stork findings click here. The sightings page will soon feature a map to trace their movements. One bird - known as 'Storrington' - has already been recorded in Brittany, having flown across the Channel from the Isle of Wight.
White storks often live in close proximity to people, building their large shaggy nests on roofs and church towers. In Europe, where they are considered a sign of good luck, they are so beloved that people erect cartwheels on their roofs to attract them. Their nests provide opportunities for colonies of other birds such as tree sparrows and house sparrows.
Storks fly far and wide to feed. Omnivores and opportunists, they seek out small mammals, earthworms, snails, crickets, and other large insects in water-meadows, grasslands, and arable fields. We hope that the white stork reintroduction will provide inspiration for restoring wetlands and river catchments such as the Arun and the Adur so that people in towns and villages will regard this bird as a charismatic emblem for the regeneration of nature.