White storks due to re­turn to the UK coun­try­side

The ‘ bringer of ba­bies’ may soon be breed­ing in Sus­sex and ben­e­fit­ting the en­vi­ron­ment.

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Wild News -

The sight of white storks fly­ing around the Sus­sex coun­try­side and perch­ing on build­ings in its vil­lages and towns is set to be­come re­al­ity in 2019. A project to rein­tro­duce white storks – one of the last recorded breed­ing at­tempts in Britain was on St Giles’ Cathe­dral in Ed­in­burgh in 1416, though they prob­a­bly hung on for some years af­ter that – is be­ing fi­nalised by a coali­tion of or­gan­i­sa­tions that in­clude the Roy Den­nis Wildlife Foun­da­tion and the Dur­rell Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Trust.

Cap­tive birds are al­ready be­ing held at Knepp Es­tate in West Sus­sex, and six birds are fly­ing free around the 1,400ha farm that has be­come one of the UK’s pi­o­neer­ing rewil­d­ing ini­tia­tives.

The plan is to re­lease up to 40 birds each year over a num­ber of years, in a sim­i­lar fash­ion to the Euro­pean crane rein­tro­duc­tion in the Som­er­set Lev­els, and it’s hoped local peo­ple will choose to put stork nest­ing plat­forms on build­ings in their local com­mu­ni­ties. “The whole point is to use these big, red-kite type birds, that will be nest­ing on the roofs of houses, schools and churches and that you sim­ply can’t ig­nore, as PR,” says Derek Gow, the ecol­o­gist and con­ser­va­tion­ist who first pro­posed the idea. “This is all about com­mu­nity en­gage­ment and mak­ing peo­ple think about the type of land­scape they want to live in.”

Dur­rell’s head of field pro­grammes Dr An­drew Terry says the Jersey-based group was struck by the op­por­tu­nity to be in­volved in a project that was not just about stem­ming the tide of wildlife loss, but about restora­tion.

“We want to look at whole ecosys­tems and how you can use a species to re­store them and scale it up to see a re­ally pos­i­tive change,” he says. “With Brexit loom­ing, there is now a na­tional de­bate over how land will be man­aged in the fu­ture and hope­fully we will see value placed on the restora­tion and main­te­nance of rich and di­verse land­scapes that will de­liver all sorts of dif­fer­ent ben­e­fits.”

Long-term goals in­clude es­tab­lish­ing a self-sus­tain­ing pop­u­la­tion by 2030 and more than 50 pairs in to­tal. The storks will be ex­pected to for­age for a wide range of in­ver­te­brates, am­phib­ians and small mam­mals in ar­eas of pas­ture, wet­land and open wood­land.

About 20 mi­grant white storks are spot­ted in Eng­land each year but a rein­tro­duc­tion project is needed to re-es­tab­lish them.

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