Somerset holds one of the last 3 remaining strongholds for barn owls in the UK, and young birds produced from this population are vital for sustaining surrounding populations and repopulating new areas in other counties.
Around 75% of Britain’s barn owls now nest in man-made nest boxes, so these have become a crucial tool in our conservation efforts. Landowners are given free nest boxes when they agree to maintain suitable prey-rich hunting habitats for barn owls, which of course benefit a huge range of other wildlife, from brown hares to kestrels and butterflies to skylarks. Depending on the size and type of farm, this is usually in the form of field margins which are cut or grazed in rotation to maintain a healthy small mammal population.
Since November 2011 we have put up more than 350 new barn owl nest boxes in Somerset; with at least one in every one of Somerset’s 331 parishes. We have also provided an extensive programme of educational visits, walks, talks, nest box-building workshops and volunteer training. This project was funded by Viridor through the Landfill Tax Credits Scheme, and was in partnership with the Somerset Wildlife Trust.
Now that the Somerset Community Barn Owl Project has finished the Hawk and Owl Trust have launched a new scheme to build on what has already been achieved. On 17th January 2015 we officially launched the New Community Owls Project.
We aim to monitor and maintain the boxes we have already installed. This would enable us to gain real knowledge about Somerset’s hugely important barn owl population, and also to ensure ongoing maintenance of the boxes (cleaning and repair) and monitoring of the hunting habitat as well as providing ongoing support and advice for the farmers. We also plan to continue putting up around 100 more nesting boxes each year.
We have created the foundations of the biggest barn owl conservation project ever undertaken in Somerset, and now have the opportunity to build on this and to build on our knowledge of this population which will help us and others to focus future conservation efforts. The barn owl is an iconic symbol of the countryside and one which, although currently threatened, responds well to human conservation efforts.
The New Community Owls Project will focus on Barn Owls, but will also aim to conserve Little Owls, Tawny Owls and Kestrels, by providing nesting boxes and creating suitable prey-rich hunting habitat for these species as well.
For more information, to enquire about obtaining a nesting box for your land, or to find out about our exciting school visits, please contact the Hawk and Owl Trust’s South West Conservation Officer, Chris Sperring.