January update from Chris and Beau
The Somerset Community Barn Owl project aims to get a nest box in each of the county's 335 parishes and boost the numbers of breeding barn owls.
Barn owls under the weather
The almost constant rain we’ve had has been really tough and owl walks and farm visits have had to be cancelled due to the extreme conditions on and around the Somerset Levels. And it’s not been much fun for the barn owls either: they can’t hunt in the rain as their soft feathers are not very waterproof. When they can go out there is less food about as the floods have caused a decline in the vole population.
When two cancelled owl walks originally scheduled for October went ahead in early December at Westhay Moor and Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserves, there was a no-show from the barn owls. Two other owl prowls and a survey and training day also had to be cancelled in December due to the bad weather.
Council pledge to create vole habitats
Despite the bad weather, 60 visits to landowners and farmers have gone ahead. And there was exciting progress came when we visited Moldrams Nature Reserve and met representatives from South Somerset District Council, who look after this reserve and others in the region. The council plans to create more areas of rough grassland, perfect habitat for the voles and hence better feeding ground for barn owls. We handed over the barn owl box once we had this pledge. Even more promising for the future, the council is looking at changing grassland management across the region: great news for voles and the barn owl hunters.
Millions view barn owl project as BBC Countryfile films on Exmoor
Another promise to create more rough grassland was captured on film to potentially be viewed by an audience of up to eight million viewers. Countryfile filmed our meeting with local farmer Jonathan Webber who was given a barn owl box after his pledge. Excitement ran high as we were filmed meeting Jonathan, causing presenter Julia Bradbury to declare that putting us and the farmer together made her feel like Cilla Black in matchmaking mode on the Nineties show Blind Date. The Countryfile programme from Exmoor was screened on BBC One on January 20. You can watch the section of the programme on BBC iplayer here.
Barn owl visits webcam box
Hopes are growing that we will have pictures of nesting barn owls after a webcam installed in a barn owl box got its first visitor. The webcam was installed in November. The box was selected because it has been used for breeding for the past few years. Crucially it is in an area with good broadband speeds and the owner is willing to host a computer 24 hours a day. You can see the webcam and keep an eye on what is going on here.
School visit boost
As we have been giving talks and assemblies to groups of school children, teaching them all about barn owls and the importance of wildlife habitats, Beau has been a huge hit with pupils.
And now in addition to the school visits funded by Viridor Credits, thanks to Western Power funding we have been able to visit an additional 20 schools.
Box building boost
West Mendip Wildlife Watch group and the Wells Beaver pack have not only been helping to construct barn owl boxes but have been fund raising for extra boxes and installing them locally.
As barn owls begin to think about breeding, we are keen to record as many sightings as possible over the coming months. If you see a barn owl, please record the sightings on our sightings page here. It’s really important you can be as accurate as possible about where it was spotted so please include a grid reference where possible. Guidance for how to find a grid reference can be found on the sightings page. All these records will feed into the Somerset Environmental Records Centre and provide really useful information of the spread of these fantastic birds across the county.
Photographs top to bottom: 1, 2, 3 © Armano Samarpan, 4 © Eve Tigwell.
Chris Sperring, MBE, Conservation Officer Hawk and Owl Trust and Vice President of Somerset Wildlife Trust with Beau
Owl on webcam
Barn owl soaring