In the 19th century, the stork was in Flanders a common summer visitor and rare breeding bird. The population of storks in western Europe crashed at the end of the 19th century and the species became rare. The last breeding pair of White Storks was found at Gistel in 1895. In 1957, the first Belgian reintroduction program of storks was started at the nature reserve ‘het Zwin’ (Knokke-Heist). The first breeding attempts were noted in 1966. In 1986, the second stork project was started in the Animal Parc Planckendael (Mechelen). These project storks attracted wild storks to the region and in 1987 there was a breeding attempt of a ‘wild’ pair. Because of the bad weather conditions was this pair unsuccessful.
In 1990, there was a ‘wild’ pair of storks breeding in Ravels near Turnhout. Recently the numbers of wild birds summering in Flanders increased thanks to the project of Natuurpunt vzw and Agentschap Natuur en Bos.
Number of nesting storks in Flanders (northern part of Belgium).
Planckendael (Mechelen) Zwin (Knokke-Heist) Outside stork villages
1995 14 pair 21 pair 0 pair
2000 20 pair 24 pair 3 pair
2001 21 pair 18 pair 2 pair
2002 22 pair 19 pair 2 pair
2003 21 pair 15 pair 2 pair
2004 25 pair 12 pair 4 pair
2005 27 pair 13 pair 4 pair
2006 30 pair 18 pair 6 pair
Humid grassland, the favourable habitat of the White Stork, has become rare in Flanders. Recent figures on the area of historical permanent grassland are 29.050 to 42.630 ha (data 1999 : Institute for Nature Conservation : http://www.inbo.be). These grasslands can be specified in semi-natural grasslands (4.640 to 8.870 ha); permanent grassland with a great variety of species (9.270 to 11.450 ha) and grasslands with small and dispersed natural habitats (15.140 to 22.310 ha).
Not shown in these figures is the high level of fragmentation of the grasslands. This fragmentation might have a very negative effect on a species like the stork. These birds need at least 200 ha of rich feeding habitat and when the food is scarse the storks use a feeding range of up to 2.000 ha. We should ask the question if it is possible to have more than 10 wild pairs of storks breeding in Flanders ?
In 1972 and 1973, were the most recent successful breeding attempts observed in Wallonia in Hachy (Prov. Luxembourg) and in 1979 and 1980 in Samart (Prov. Namur).
From 2000 to 2006 a pair is breeding at Horiont, near Liège. This pair succesfully raised 10 young in that period. More information on www.aves.be
In the Animal Parc Paradisio a reintroduction program was started (info www.paradisio.be). In the period 2001 - 2005 there were 6, 5,8,8 & 11 freeliving pairs.