Conservationists return white storks to Britain at Knepp Estate

A group of private landowners and nature conservation organisations, are working
together to help the white stork return home to South East England for the first time in
several hundred years.

The project team are pleased to report that a pair of storks have been sighted nesting
in an oak tree on the Knepp Estate in West Sussex. If their chicks successfully fledge,
the nest at Knepp would be the first successful nest in southern England since the end
of the Civil War.

These large birds, symbolic of rebirth, are native to the British Isles and evidence
suggests that they were once widely distributed. Whilst it is unclear why this
spectacular and sociable bird failed to survive in Britain, it is likely that a combination
of habitat loss, over-hunting and targeted persecution all contributed to their decline.
A contributory factor may be that it was persecuted in the English Civil War for being
associated with rebellion. The white stork is a migratory bird species, and there have
been many sightings in South East England over recent years, but conservationists
identified that the species would need a helping hand to re-establish a breeding
population in Britain.

The White Stork Project is a pioneering partnership of private landowners and nature
conservation charities, which aims to restore a population of at least 50 breeding pairs
in southern England by 2030 through a phased release programme over the next five
years.

At least 250 white storks will be released at several sites in Sussex and surrounding
counties. Initial releases aimed at establishing local breeding populations, as seen for
the first time at Knepp this year, have already been undertaken and will be
supplemented in late summer each year by the release of captive-bred juvenile storks
reared at Cotswold Wildlife Park.

Charlie Burrell, owner of the Knepp Estate, said: “We are thrilled to see these
wonderful birds starting to nest in Sussex once again. A raft of recent reports have
brought into stark focus how close we are to ecological collapse, but there is still hope.
Projects like the rewilding of Knepp show that when allowed to do so, nature can heal
itself”

Isabella Tree, co-owner of the Knepp Estate, added: “For centuries the stork has been
used as a symbol of rebirth and renewal, and we hope its return to Britain will help
kick-start a movement for the wider restoration of nature”
International environmental charity, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust is a key partner
in the project and will provide post-release monitoring expertise as well as work with
the communities surrounding the release sites. Lucy Groves, Project Officer for Durrell
commented: “It’s a real privilege to watch and follow the behaviours of these
charismatic birds, particularly the nesting. I am excited to work with the local
community as I believe these beautiful birds will really capture the public’s imagination
and hopefully become a positive symbol that there is hope for the natural world.”

Alongside the Knepp Estate, Durrell and Cotswold Wildlife Park, other key partners
include the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation for their reintroduction expertise. Other
release sites include Wadhurst Park in Sussex and Wintershall Estate in Surrey.

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