Godalming area birds

Godalming area birds

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Surrey White Stork Reintroduction Project

It certainly came as a surprise when I heard the news a few months ago, but the Wintershall Estate, on my patch in the Thorncombe Street area, are becoming part of a White Stork reintroduction scheme. The birds are due by the end of this month, following the release of Storks at the Knepp Estate in Sussex in the summer, with approximately 20 set to arrive.
White Stork at Bialowieza, Poland, earlier this year
The movement to bring back this charismatic species, perhaps unsurprisingly, hasn’t gained large-scale acclaim. Like most birders, when I first heard the news I was sceptical. I had no relations with Wintershall, which takes up a lot of my recording area, and is predominately a shooting estate, with small-scale farming and a wedding venue also in operation.
It seems the biggest question is, when there are so many other, native species in decline, why is reintroducing a bird that’s common on the continent a priority? Surely this species could and may colonise naturally in time, anyway? Is it just a big, engaging species, that can draw the public in? These were some of the questions I had when the Hutley family, who own Wintershall, reached out to me for discussions about the Storks.
As previously mentioned, I wasn’t sure about the motives the estate had for this project, but I’m delighted to say that it’s absolutely no publicity stunt, or commercial gimmick, and in fact stems from a deep-rooted desire to reconnect with nature. I’ve now had several meetings with Nick Hutley, and he won’t mind me saying that, initially, they were unsure about the best way to approach the situation. I explained the negative view birders had about this scheme, and it soon became apparent he wasn’t just wanting to dump a load of Storks in a field, but manage areas of his land for natures benefit.
In time, I drew up a list of priority species, and various ways to either keep or attract them. The Storks enclosure is being created currently, and has multiple species in mind – it’s hoped they will be part of a small wetland habitat, in effect a mini nature reserve, a move that alone shows a commitment to the wider wildlife. A reedbed, scrapes and wet meadow are hoped to be included.
White Stork at Knepp Estate, Sussex
(Martin's Sussex Birding Blog)
We’ve also earmarked several pockets of land which are hoped to be turned into ‘wild’ areas, with species like Turtle Dove and Nightingale hoped to be the beneficiaries. Furthermore, the Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers that live on Wintershall land are going to be given as much help as possible. Nick has also given the greenlight for ringers to set up nets on his land, which is something I hope begins this autumn.
The Storks arriving hail from Poland, and similar schemes in the Netherlands, France and Belgium have been undertaken in recent years. Young White Storks are usually faithful to their natal site, and depend on an established colony for successful breeding, so these programmes use captive birds to seed initial colonies. Thus, the Wintershall birds will be protected by electric fencing, and will have their wings clipped.
The Stork enclosure is not going to be open to the public. The site is pretty secluded, and visits will be possible on request. Details on this will become clearer in time. It’s hoped that the wetland will attract other species, but this remains to be seen. It is of course, an experiment. The long-term goal is a patchwork of habitats dedicated to nature, with free-winged Storks breeding naturally in the surrounding area. The short-term goal is to provide a comfortable home for the Storks, in an area created and dedicated to other wetland wildlife, in particular birds.
White Stork reintroduction shouldn’t be a priority for conservationists. There are plenty of more pressing matters and species. However, in this day in age, particularly on a shooting estate, if the landowner wants to give parts of their land to nature, and try to reconnect with wildlife, then I personally can only see it as a positive thing.