A forestry Commission project to help barn owls in Cumbria’s Grizedale Forest and the Rusland Valley, between Coniston and Newby Bridge, has been hailed as a success, after a reported increase in the number of birds nesting in the area.
This year there have been six actively occupied nest boxes around Grizedale Forest, but previously there had been no more than two boxes occupied in any of the last 15 years.
Barn owls are a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act and have been in decline in Britain in the last 15 years due to increased use of pesticides and a reduction in the number of derelict buildings.
The project is a joint venture between the Forestry Commission and the World Owl Trust at Muncaster Castle, and funded by the Tourism and Conservation Partnership.
The project was launched to identify suitable new habitat for the barn owls, followed by the installation of new nest boxes for them to breed in.
Monitoring owl numbers can be a useful tool in helping the Forestry Commission pick up on potential threats to different species at the earliest possible stage, and gives forest managers time to respond to their needs effectively. This can include setting of exclusion zones which help to avoid unnecessary disturbance to the owls from people and predators.
Iain Yoxall, Wildlife Ranger at Grizedale, says:
“To see such an upturn in the number of nesting barn owls since we launched the conservation project is great news.
“Numbers of nesting owls in the area have been stable for a long period of time, so to suddenly see them jump is a great reward for the people who have dedicated time and effort to the project.”
The monitoring of the new breeding sites is expected to offer the barn owls additional protection which they have not previously had.
The World Owl Trust is also planning an education day in The Yan Building at the Grizedale Forest Visitor Centre in January 2010 for two local schools, Hawkshead Primary and Levens Valley Primary. The children will be visiting Grizedale to learn all about the barn owls and the project in their local area.
Hilary Lange, UK Conservation Officer for the World Owl Trust, says:
“The Education Day at Grizedale has been designed to get local children excited barn owls and learn more about them, particularly in their local area.
“We also hope to generate further interest in the project from local land owners who would be willing to manage their land sympathetically for barn owls by putting up a box and providing a secure nest site”.
Barn owls tend to mate for life. The female will lay her eggs in April or May, which hatch after about 33 days, with the chicks able to fly after 9 to 12 weeks. The owls sometimes breed twice a year.
For more information on the World Owl Trust, visit www.owls.org
For more information on the work of the forestry commission in North West England, visit www.forestry.gov.uk/northwestengland