White storks reared at the Cotswold Wildlife Park take flight in the UK’s first stork rewilding project

Twenty-eight storks reared at an Oxfordshire wildlife park have fledged in one of the UK’s most ambitious rewilding programmes.

For the fourth year running, the Cotswold Wildlife Park has successfully reared chicks for the pioneering project called The White Stork Project, which aims to restore stork populations in Britain – a sight not seen since the 15th century.

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This is the first stork rewilding program of its kind in the UK.

The Cotswold Wildlife Park team, in conjunction with the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, are responsible for the captive management aspect of the project and have raised young from a captive population sourced from rehabilitation centers in Poland.

A total of 24 adult pairs live in a large mesh enclosure at Burford Wildlife Park, where they receive the highest care to facilitate successful breeding.

Eight chicks hatched in 2018, 24 were successfully raised and released in 2019 and in 2020, despite harsh weather conditions, the birds still managed to raise 21 chicks.

This year’s chicks hatched in May and to maximize their chances of survival, the park’s breeding team ‘helped’ feed the chicks on the nest.

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Once fully fledged and separated from adults, the birds were weighed, sexed, microchipped and fitted with highly visible leg rings to make them easily identifiable after release.

At the end of July they were moved to the Knepp Castle estate in West Sussex and this month the storks were released into the wild – a momentous moment for the whole team.

Jamie Craig, Curator of the Cotswold Wildlife Park, said: ‘It is always hugely rewarding to take our White Stork chicks to the Knepp Estate ready to be released. After months of dedicated care from the park’s Stork team to get youngsters to this point, the very day of the outing when the acclimatization enclosure is open never loses its magic.

“We are delighted that we now have the fourth year of Cotswold-bred storks exploring the skies around Sussex, before hopefully setting off on their marathon migration.”

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The White Stork Project monitors tagged birds through their GPS tracking system, but also relies on sightings reported on their website by members of the public to track tagged and untagged storks.

Thanks to the dedication of an ever-growing army of stork fans across Europe and Africa, they recently received encouraging news about one of the first storks released into the wild in 2018 – a female named Marge who has was bred at the Cotswold Wildlife Park.

The White Stork Project aims to have at least 50 breeding pairs in southern England by 2030. Find out more at whitestorkproject.org.

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