What we do
Our work is in two main areas. The first is putting up nest boxes. This is where we rely on farmers or the general public letting us know where Barn Owls have been regularly seen or where they have nested in a tree, barn or building. If owls are seen regularly in an area, we may well put up a box which will not only provide an alternative nest site but also provide shelter for roosting owls particularly in the winter months and when the young have fledged. If you know of nest sites which are now under threat of redevelopment or destruction please let us know via the contact page.
We also survey areas which might be suitable for a pair of Barn Owls to establish a territory. For these owls to be successful they must have a suitable feeding habitat. In the past this was often provided in a farmyard where rodents fed on spilled grain and suitable nest sites were available in barns and outbuildings. Recently many barns have been converted to accommodation and grain spillage is a thing of the past. Nowadays the main source of food is the short tailed field vole which lives in rough grassland.
We try to identify suitable areas and then visit the land owner or farmer to get permission to put up nest boxes. It should be emphasised that most of Cheshire farmland is totally unsuitable for Barn Owls as it consists of fields which are either heavily grazed or silaged at regular intervals or both.
Nevertheless there are, tucked away in most parishes, areas full of clumps of long grass where the voles can breed and the owls can find suitable prey. An example is shown alongside where we recently sited one of our boxes.
Suitable boxes are made for us, each box costs us about £60, and then erected in a suitable spot. We have 3 teams of 4-5 who work in the North, centre and South of our area. Most boxes are pole boxes which are placed on top of a used telegraph pole cut in half.
We also put up tree boxes. We carry the boxes and the poles to the sites using a trailer bought with a lottery grant. A video showing the erection of a box can be seen here. To date we have installed over 300 nest boxes In West Cheshire. In a good year about 15% of our boxes are occupied by breeding Barn Owls.
We also have about 10 pairs of kestrels plus jackdaws, squirrels and other wildlife using the boxes. Owls also use the boxes for roosting and shelter which is very important as Barn Owls have no waterproofing on the feathers.
Our other main area of work is ringing. Every year we visit all our boxes and any known tree sites where we ring, weigh and measure any young or adult birds that we find. The main purpose of ringing is to find out as much as we can about the number of young birds that live to breed successfully, how far they move etc. see the section on the Barn Owl for more details.
Our other activities are:
- Giving talks to local groups, schools etc. to raise awareness of the plight of the Barn Owls and describe what we are doing to help (which is also the purpose of this web site)
- Learning much as we can about the Barn Owl by maintaining contact with other groups in Cheshire and National Groups such as the Hawk and Owl Trust
- Encouraging membership of our group and holding meetings of the whole group at Meadow Bank farm Broxton
- Talking to Farmers and landowners about the need to provide habitat for owls and other wildlife. (Many farmers in our area have taken up Stewardship Grants from the Government which help them to do this)
- Finally, despite the fact that we are all volunteers, we need to raise money to pay for the boxes, the equipment we use, the webcam and even this website. We raise money from grants, The Lottery and from our membership.
What have we achieved
The following graph which is taken from The Cheshire Barn Owl report (which is written by The Broxton Group on behalf of all the groups in Cheshire) shows the increase in the Barn Owl population over recent years. A large part of this has undoubtedly arisen as a result of the efforts of all the groups to provide nest sites and protection for the Owls. Note that the fluctuation in the numbers of breeding pairs is due to the fluctuation in the numbers of short tailed field voles. When in a poor vole year the owls do not breed they normally survive to breed successfully the next year.