Frequently Asked Questions
Photo by Annie Davis
How did the project start?
  • Researchers Derek Gow and Coral Edgcumbe initiated the project, backed by a feasibility report with contributions from experts. Funding for the initial work came from the Lund Fund.
Who is running the project?
  • A collaboration of private landowners in Sussex, Cotswold Wildlife Park, and Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation manages the project. Birds are sourced from Warsaw Zoo and other European sites. The overall running of the project is overseen by White Stork Project Officer, Laura Vaughan-Hirsch, a biologist with a background in education. 
Who is funding the project?
  • Landowners fund pen construction and stork care. Import and technical costs are covered by the Lund Fund, and breeding and quarantine are funded by Cotswold Wildlife Park.
  • Fundraising for various outreach aspects of the project is an incredibly important source of income. Funds are raised through the Knepp Wildland Foundation charity. 
What is the long-term aim of the project?
  • To establish a self-sustaining population of 50+ breeding pairs in southern England by 2030, fostering wildlife interest and benefiting local communities.
Why reintroduce White Storks?
  • Archaeological evidence of white storks in the UK dates back to the Pleistocene.
  • White storks probably disappeared in the UK in 12th century through hunting but there have been numerous attempts to nest here, from the famous nest on St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh in 1416 to nesting attempts in East Anglia and elsewhere in the modern day. None have successfully bred, though.
Where have other reintroduction projects taken place?
  • Reintroductions have taken place in Switzerland (1948), Belgium (1957), the Netherlands (1969), France (1970s), Germany (1970s), Italy (1985), Sweden (1989) and Spain (2003. These successful reintroductions have provided valuable models. 
Why undertake the project in Sussex?
  • Abundant habitat, historical sightings, and potential to attract wandering birds from Europe make Sussex an ideal location.
What license is required?
  • Natural England and DEFRA confirmed no license is needed under the Wildlife & Countryside Act, aligning with European conservation directives.
What methodology is being used?

Experience-driven strategy involves holding birds for two years, releasing rehabilitated storks, and introducing captive-bred birds for population boost and to encourage migratory behaviour. 

How many birds will be released?

Over 250 storks from Poland and France have been released across the different project sites. Ongoing releases of captive-bred birds will continue to bolster colony numbers and encourage migratory behaviour. 

What will the storks eat?

Storks are highly opportunistic feeders; they consume mammals, insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds, fish, molluscs, and earthworms. Habitat management practices will encourage food sources. Small prey items, particularly grasshoppers, beetles and earthworms are likely to make up the majority of their diet in the UK. 

Can White Storks survive winter in Sussex?

Yes, since the project started in 2016 they have come through winters in good condition and are now readily breeding in spring. Here, winters are much milder compared to Scania, Alsace and other regions where white storks also overwinter. 

Where will birds be sourced from?

Warsaw Zoo in Poland provided the initial, rehabilitated previously wild birds. Cotswold Wildlife Park quarantined these birds and kept some to form a breeding population.  The young they produce are brought to Knepp to be released in summer each year, helping to increase the number in the colony and encourage migratory behaviour. 

Bird flu and what to do if you find a dead stork

Sadly, avian influenza (AI) has spread across the UK and there were devastating outbreaks in 2022, particularly at seabird colonies in the north of England and Scotland. Whilst we haven’t yet recorded AI at Knepp or among our white stork Project birds, we remain vigilant and biosecurity measures have been stepped up and continue to be monitored. 

If you find a dead white stork anywhere, regardless of the apparent circumstances of death, please do not touch it or pick it up. If you can, please note the specific location at which you found the bird (ideally grid reference, What3Words reference or nearest postcode), as well as the time and date. A photo of the bird in situ would also be useful.

Please email this information as soon as possible to so that we can deal with collecting the bird and undertaking necessary testing in compliance with the guidance given to us by DEFRA.  

Will the origin of reintroduced birds affect their migration?

Mixing eastern and western populations through reintroduction has little impact on migratory behavior due to conspecific attraction.

Why are some of the juvenile storks tagged?

To track migration routes and behaviors, specially designed trackers provide high-resolution GPS and accelerometer data. Take a look at the Migration Map which displays some data from these tags, allowing us to learn about their movement. 

Do the tags affect the birds?

No, the lightweight tags on a backpack harness minimally impact storks. The biodegradable stitching ensures eventual tag detachment. Several storks with satellite tags have successfully migrated all the way to north Africa and are  observed exhibiting normal behaviours there. 

What happens to tagged storks that don't survive?

An effort is made to determine causes of death and data analyzed for program improvement. However, high mortality rates (as with any migratory species) must be acknowledged and sadly sometimes tagged storks do not survive. 

What will happen to the data produced from the tagging?

Some of the data will be accessible on the project website for public monitoring. Research findings will be published, and summaries provided for non-technical audiences. The project ensures transparency and adherence to ethical tagging practices. We work in collaboration with various researchers who have full access to our tag data. 

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