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UK's first wild white storks in centuries hatch in Sussex

First wild white storks hatch at the Knepp Estate in West Sussex Photo: Brad Albrecht/PA Wire

A conservation project to reintroduce home grown wild white storks to the UK has announced the hatching of some eggs in Sussex.

The chicks hatched in a nest on the Knepp Estate near Horsham in West Sussex. The team behind the 'White Stork Project' said it is the first time in centuries that baby wild white storks have been born in the UK.

The organisation wants to establish a population of at least 50 breeding pairs of white storks in southern England by 2030.

The White Stork Project team have been observing three nests on the Knepp Estate. Initially members saw the parents incubate a nest with five eggs. They later saw the the parents removing eggshells from the nest and then regurgitating food for the chicks.

It is a turn of events, last year the same pair of white storks had tried to breed at the Sussex site, but they were unsuccessful.

Two wild white storks in a nest on the Knepp Estate Credit: Brad Albrecht/PA Wire

According to the White Stork Project, archaeological records show that white storks have bred in the UK as long ago as 360,000 years ago, with the most recent record being in 1416... when a pair of white storks were found nesting on the roof of St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh.

"After waiting 33 days for these eggs to hatch it was extremely exciting to see signs that the first egg had hatched on May 6.

"The parents have been working hard and are doing a fantastic job, especially after their failed attempt last year.

"It is incredible to have the first white stork chicks hatch in the wild for hundreds of years here at Knepp.

"These are early days for the chicks, and we will be monitoring them closely, but we have great hopes for them.

"This is just one step towards establishing this species in the South of England. It may be a small step, but it is an exciting one.

"This stunning species has really captured people's imagination and it has been great following the sightings of birds from the project during the period of lockdown and hearing about the joy and hope they have brought to people."

– Lucy Groves, Project Officer, White Stork Project

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Isabella Tree, who owns the site along with Charlie Burrell, said the births of the chicks had restored a part of history.

"When I hear that clattering sound now, coming from the tops of our oak trees where they're currently nesting at Knepp, it feels like a sound from the Middle Ages has come back to life.

"We watch them walking through the long grass on their long legs, kicking up insects and deftly catching them in their long beaks as they go - there's no other bird that does that in the UK.

"It's walking back into a niche that has been empty for centuries."

– Isabella Tree, co-owner of Knepp