For the First Time in Centuries...

Wild stork chicks set to hatch in England next month after three pairs of the huge white birds built nests in West Sussex.

Platforms were specially constructed for them on the Knepp estate, the centre for a reintroduction project, close to the West Sussex village of Storrington, known as Estorchestone or “homestead of the white storks” in the Domesday Book.

White storks are traditionally thought to bring fertility and good luck but have been extinct as breeding birds in Britain since 1416, or possibly during the English civil war.

More than 100 birds have been bred in captivity and released at three locations in West Sussex and Surrey, including Knepp, a 3,500-acre former dairy farm that was rewilded at the turn of the century.

Storks are monogamous and last year a young pair laid three eggs in a treetop nest at Knepp but the eggs did not hatch. This year the couple constructed a new nest in which they have laid five eggs.

With four other birds having paired up and made nests, conservationists have high hopes that the first wild-born storks – which eat insects, earthworms and small mammals – will hatch and fledge this summer.

Lucy Groves, the white stork project officer for Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, one of the partners in the reintroduction scheme, said: “The female was just coming up to four years old last spring and was a little bit too young to breed but they obviously know what they are doing this year and were ahead of the game. It’s really exciting. It’s going to be a fantastic year.”

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