A project aimed at giving white storks a new lease of life in the UK has seen the birds take flight and spread across the south of England for the first time in hundreds of years.

Two dozen young white storks were released from Knepp in West Sussex in August, the first steps towards recovering a species believed to have been lost to the UK more than 600 years ago due to hunting and the loss of habitats caused by farming and land management.

Now the birds, eight of which carry GPS trackers, have been spotted across the south of England – including Cornwall’s Hayle Estuary more than 350km away.

Lucy Groves, the project officer for Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, one of the groups behind the scheme, said: “We have had reports coming in from East Sussex, Southampton, Dorset and Penzance in Cornwall, where the birds spent some time wowing holiday makers over the August bank holiday weekend.”

Meanwhile some of the birds have joined others in the migratory species on the journey to Africa, where storks traditionally spend the winter months.