Visit to the White Stork Project at Knepp on Wednesday 29th June 2022

After a delay of two years, twenty keen Chi Nats members were greeted by Matt Phelps who gave us a brief talk on the background to the White Stork Project and on what was happening in the current year.


The Project was started in 2016 with birds introduced from Poland and from 2019 to 2023 captive bred juveniles (from project partner Cotswold Wildlife Park) have been and will be added, hopefully, resulting in a self-sustaining population of about 300. There are thought to be approximately half a million white storks across Europe with occasional birds visiting the UK, so the aim was to establish a breeding population here.  There is evidence of breeding white storks until 600 years ago and, locally, Storrington is known as “the village of the storks”.


In 2022, 30 juveniles will be arriving plus this is year three of successful breeding with 8 nests and 20 juveniles on those nests.  There are usually 4 or 5 eggs per nest with 2 or 3 surviving and subsequently a 30% mortality in the first year.  After a 33 day incubation period, the young hatch and take just 6 to 8 weeks to reach adult size and then they bulk out. At about 45 days old, the young are all ringed (by an experienced tree climber or by using a cherry picker) and then a week later they fledge.  Interestingly, the UK birds grow faster and fledge later than those in Europe.  At 4 to 5 years of age they can successfully breed.


There are about 40 volunteers on the Project monitoring the birds’ activity.  The original 2016 birds are hefted to Knepp so will stay in the area.  More recent individuals are “experimenting” with migration. White storks migrate to Africa crossing the Mediterranean via The Gibraltar Straits or Turkey (the narrowest points for these gliding fliers).  At a cost of £1000 per bird, GPS trackers, which last about 2 years, can be fitted (12 in 2022) which give great insight into the routes the storks take.  This is in conjunction with the University of East Anglia and we were intrigued by the examples of individuals that Matt showed us.


On our walk, enthusiastically led by Matt, we enjoyed great sightings of the nests and were easily able to observe the activities of the adults and their young on the verge of fledging. At the (much welcome) drinks stop, all eyes went skyward as about a dozen birds took flight and, taking the benefit of thermals, soared to a great height.  Tremendous.


(In addition, we also learnt about the Exmoor ponies, Longhorn cattle, Tamworth pigs, fallow deer and their activities and management as well as the birdlife, other wildlife and all the varied research projects being conducted at Knepp.  Phew!  For another time……)


Many thanks to Lucy Groves (who enabled our visit) and to Matt Phelps. Thank you to all attendees for their friendly company and to the photographers amongst us, well done.


Gill Hance


If anyone wants more information about the White Stork Project refer to: - 

White Storks - Knepp Wildland

White Stork Project   

Two babes in the nest

Adult stork feeding juveniles

Stork in Flight


Tamworth pig

White Stork Project information stand

Fallow deer

Exmoor Pony

Chichester, West Sussex

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