Could white storks become a feature, or even a tourist attraction, for the Waveney Valley?
Ben Potterton, director at Shorelands Wildlife Gardens, at Langmere near Dickleburgh, has just taken into his care 22 of the birds with the aim of starting a reintroduction programme into the wild.
The birds, which had been injured by colliding with electricity cables, were collected from a centre in Poland. White storks breed in several populations across Europe.
The intention is to breed from the birds and start a dialogue with wildlife agencies, including the RSPB and Natural England, about reintroducing them to the area.
Mr Potterton said: “If we could get storks back in the area, on a few farms, it would be a nice scene. They would be a tourist attraction for the Waveney Valley.
“We want to work with all the wildlife agencies. The European directive says that if an animal used to be here, then you should make an effort to put it back.”
Local businesses have been involved in helping care for the storks too. Butchers D.A Browne of Harleston has been offering meat offcuts and small bones, while the Smurfit Kappa packaging factory at Pulham St Mary was able to provide cardboard wardrobe boxes that were exactly stork sized to transport the birds back to the UK. Lowestoft-based Sam Coles Food Group has also provided fish.
But would white storks, which have the Latin name Ciconia ciconia, be desirable to all?
Mr Potterton said: “They were always the farmer’s friend up to a certain point in time. They were loved because they would eat rats and moles for example. They follow tractors around on the continent like seagulls do in this country.
“They are not herons. They will not land in your garden and eat your fish. They are much happier eating earthworms.”
A spokesman for the RSPB was cautious. She said: “Reintroductions can be a useful tool for conservation and species recovery.
“However, a scheme of this kind carries risks and it’s vital that any reintroduction follows strict international agreed criteria to ensure there are no negative consequences which could threaten native wildlife.”
The birds have a wingspan of 7ft. By comparison the common buzzard’s wings stretch to 4ft 6ins.
Sightings in the UK are fairly rare, and are often escapees from collections rather than the natural migration of wild birds.
Mr Potterton said a pair of white storks are currently in Norwich, however the birds’ last nesting attempt was in 1416 in Edinburgh, so actual breeding is unlikely without intervention.
Not all bird reintroduction programmes have been successful. In 2010 a plan to establish sea eagles, the UK’s largest bird of prey, to Suffolk’s wetland coast, was halted.