NarVOS Barn Owl Nestboxes
Barn Owl Nestboxes and the River Nar Restoration Project
The whole of the Nar has the status of Site of Special Scientific Interest. And in 2010 a number of partners came together to develop a strategy to arrest the decline in and to improve the natural environment of the River Nar and the immediate area. This strategy has been called the River Nar Restoration Project. Various members of NarVOS attended awareness drop-ins, notably in Narborough, where the project was being rolled out.
The NarVOS committee looked for ways in which the society could become involved in the project. In February last year Stewart South liaised with contacts he had at the Environment Agency, one of the project partners. It transpired that we could be allied to the project by working on Barn Owl boxes with Colin Shawyer and the Wildlife Conservation Partnership. More specifically, Colin is co-ordinator of the Barn Owl Conservation Network. So, Stewart kicked off the liaison process with Colin.
How could we help? As Colin lives in Hertfordshire we would have to work at arm’s length initially. Colin asked if we could identify suitable nest sites for Barn Owl nestboxes, within a specified area. As this was all on private land, we got Mick East involved. And Mick certainly knows how to use modern technology to the best advantage. I’m not sure how we would have managed without him.
Establish locations for nestbox sites in consultation with landowners
The first stage was for Colin to identify potential sites, using Ordnance Survey maps, for barn owl nest box installations spaced at about 1 km intervals along the Nar. But what looks good on a map, may not look good on the ground. Also, in liaison with Allan Hale and his extensive knowledge of barn owls and nestboxes, we needed to avoid installing boxes too close to any existing ones.
Mick then cleverly identified relevant landowners using the following Natural England website http://www.natureonthemap.naturalengland.org.uk/MagicMap.aspx and, after getting permission from
these landowners to access their land and to put up boxes, we then needed to travel on farm tracks to identify suitable trees on which 'A' frame type nestboxes could be installed.
When Mick had located what he thought was a suitable and accessible tree he photographed it and took its GPS position. The Grid Reference, Google Satellite Map and OS Map (OS/Sat Map as shown on next page) were then emailed through to Colin for final approval.
We knew we would be using 'A' frame nestboxes, constructed from marine/WBP ply, which provided good opportunities for future monitoring and maintenance. These 'A' Frame nestboxes are ideal for the main trunk of reasonably mature trees, and are typically fixed no higher than 10-15 feet above the ground.
We agreed a date for installation and Colin duly arrived with the 11 A-boxes in his Land Rover. They came IKEA flat-pack style, as below, and each one was assembled by Colin in about 15 minutes.
At the time of installation the box details were recorded on the monitoring form. This included the Wildlife Conservation Partnerships box number, grid reference, site and land owner’s name. Colin, assisted by Mick and Stewart, installed eleven nestboxes at selected sites in the Pentney, Marham, Wormegay, Blackborough and East Winch areas by the end of October 2012. Strictly speaking, seven of these boxes were funded by the Environment Agency, and the other four by one of the landowners, at his request. There has been no financial cost to NarVOS.
As these were ‘first year’ boxes, we planned for them to be first checked in mid-July 2013, thus giving any new Barn Owl pairs a chance to settle into their new ‘home’. We had thought that this would be a time consuming project involving several members. In reality, the sites were identified by Mick, Stewart and Allan and it was these three NarVOS members who carried out the monitoring this summer. Vacant boxes were visited only once on 17th July, some occupied boxes more than once and one particularly ‘late’ box was visited three times, the last visit being 24th September.
All three Barn Owl nestboxes on the Pentney/Marham farm were successful with broods of four, three and one, respectively. There was one late, but successful, brood of three young from one of the four boxes in the Wormegay. The other three of these four boxes were empty, but two had been visited by Barn Owls. At East Winch none of the four boxes raised young, although Barn Owls had visited at least one box. Allan, a licensed bird ringer as most of you know, ringed all the young birds, and also provided Land Rover and ladder to inspect all the boxes. Detailed monitoring forms for all sites will be forwarded by NarVOS to Colin Shawyer.
Quite a disparity in results from farms that are so close to each other. Are there better food sources on one farm versus the other two? We do not know. As the project is ongoing we remain hopeful that more nextboxes will be occupied by Barn Owls next year. Our thanks go to the landowners, to Colin Shawyer and to the Environment agency. Thanks for all your support.
by Mick East and Stewart South