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Happy Birthday Owl Box Initiative!

The Owl Box Initiative is delighted to be celebrating it’s one year anniversary and after a busy year for everyone involved, and particularly for the breeding barn owls across our study sites, we thought we would look back on an exciting year of conservation, monitoring and engagement.

The year began with the delivery of 64 barn owl nest boxes, to be distributed across the 6 farmer clusters working with the project. The majority of boxes were swiftly mounted on chosen farms in the early months of 2021, through the dedication and enthusiasm by all farmer groups involved. The breeding season then got under way and project team members coordinated their nest box monitoring efforts with project volunteer ornithologists across Hampshire, Wiltshire and Dorset, to collect important data on occupancy and breeding success; and our GoPro mounted on an extendable pole proved to be a fantastic box monitoring tool to quickly and quietly check nest boxes.

While nest boxes were monitored, 12 adult barn owls were sensitively selected and GPS tagged to allow us to study their movements, pellets were collected to go towards barn owl diet analysis and across a number of farms small mammal ink tracking tunnels were set and checked to understand more about the presence of barn owl prey within various farmland habitats.

As well as a busy season of field work, the project has also been communicating advice and knowledge and creating awareness about barn owl conservation and wildlife friendly farming. This year we have regularly met with the farmer clusters we are working with, as well as the individual farmers on their land, attended events, provided resources via our website on how to make a nest box and where to site them, and also live streamed the activities of a barn owl pair and their brood, from adult courtship to chicks fledging – which was certainly a highlight!

This project is a team effort by everyone involved and we take this opportunity to share with you some thoughts from individuals who have worked on or with the project over the last year…

‘Being involved with such a great project like the Owl Box Initiative, enables you to learn how barn owls use your particular landscape and the importance of the habitats they use. This in turn allows you to improve their chances of success.’

Rupert Brewer, Game Keeper

‘Both the Martin Down and Allenford Farmer Cluster have relished the opportunity to be a part of the Owl Box Initiative to encourage more barn owls on to their land, and through the work of the OBI team we have seen such success in just this first year. The highlight for me was seeing 5 barn owls being ringed under licence, from one brood – which is a fantastic number, indicating that all the conservation measures being put in place collectively across all the farms in this landscape-scale conservation project, is paying dividends!’

Megan Lock GWCT, Martin Down and Allenford Farmer Cluster Facilitator

‘I have been fascinated to find out more about the breeding and hunting of the barn owls on the farm. It has made me even more enthusiastic about the conservation of this incredible species.’

David Chick, Farmer

‘It has been brilliant to be involved in the project. In twenty years of monitoring barn owls we are now learning exactly where breeding barn owls hunt, rather than presuming. This can have direct conservation benefit and lead to habitat management specifically for them.’

Matt Prior, OBI Volunteer Ornithologist

‘What a fantastic first year it has been for the Owl Box Initiative team. From expanding the network of nest boxes on 6 farmer clusters, to understanding more about the movements of barn owls on arable land - we have already achieved so much by working as a collective with landowners, volunteers and scientists.’

Niamh McHugh GWCT, OBI Project Manager

"The first year of the Owl Box Initiative has been fantastic! We already know a great deal about our golden ghosts of the night, but the new insights, from using GPS-tracking and small mammal monitoring, are fascinating. These will be invaluable for improving habitats, both for barn owls and the other raptors which depend on them."

Ryan Burrell, OBI Volunteer Ornithologist

‘The Owl Box Initiative is a great community project, run by young scientists at the GWCT. It champions the wildlife-friendly farming measures carried out by farmers and land managers. I am delighted that our advice and engagement is inspiring so many farmers to do more for the conservation of the barn owl, which also benefits a wider suite of wildlife. What we are learning about where the barn owls forage and use of the farmed landscape, is fascinating.’

Teresa Dent, GWCT CEO

Going forward, through project conservation activities, research and continued communication we will endeavour to understand more about the barn owl’s use of agricultural habitats and work with the farming community to provide advice on conservation measures to support their local barn owl populations, whilst also providing awareness of how these measures can help a wider suite of wildlife.

From all of the Owl Box Initiative team, we want to say a BIG thank you to everyone who has given their time to the project this past year and look forward to continuing the project’s exciting work with you all.

…So, HAPPY 1st BIRTHDAY Owl Box Initiative – now let’s eat some cake!

Owl Box Initiative Project Manager, Niamh McHugh, celebrating a fantastic first project year of

community collaboration and research.

Support the Owl Box Initiative

You can help support the project by purchasing an Owl Box Initiative Supporter Badge or Living Nature Soft Toy Barn Owl from the GWCT.


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