Friday, 8 April 2016

Welcome to BOB, Derbyshire 'Barn Owl Box' Project

Photo by : Stuart Pike @raptorwatcher

In 2008 I went on a FSC (Field Studies Council) Bird ringing for beginners course at Flatford Mill, I had a fantastic time and met some great people. One person that had a lasting effect on me was Steve Piotrowski, he was one of the ringing trainers. On a wet afternoon, when ringing wasn't possible, he talked about his work with the Suffolk Community Barn Owl Project and how they had brought the Barn Owl back from the brink in Suffolk. I remember thinking at the time that I would love to start a similar project in Derbyshire. I had only seen Barn Owls a couple of times and hoped for a time when they were abundant in the county and could be seen by many people, quartering over fields and marshes.

This dream was put on a back burner over the next few years as funding for such a scheme was well out of my reach. Then I joined the committee of the Chesterfield & North East Derbyshire Wildlife Trust local group. We started organising wildlife events in 2012 which enabled us to raise money to help out with some local conservation projects. After the 2014 event we had funds available for a new project and this was my chance to put forward the plight of the Barn Owl. All on the committee were instantly on board and the BOB (Barn Owl Box) project was born.

With funds to start we were up & running, Brian Goodwin (our resident craftsman) ordered the timber, roofing felt, nails etc. He stored the timber until we could find time to start building the boxes.

Brian carefully marks out the cutting lines on the outdoor ply

In December 2015 we began building 10 boxes and also started trying to find local landowners who would let us install them on their land.

We used The Barn Owl Trust design for our boxes

Over a period of around 3 weeks we slowly assembled the boxes, I must admit Brian did most of the work and I turned up on Tuesdays to help put the boxes together and then Brian treated the timber and felted the roofs.

The boxes were made into kits ready to assemble

One by one boxes were glued, sealed & screwed

This project would not have been possible without Brian's skill & the use of his workshop

Now the boxes were made, 10 in all, it was time to get them installed ready for the 2016 breeding season & hopefully the local Barn Owls would soon be moving in. The chance to try and help a wonderful species like the Barn Owl was a very exciting prospect. I'm sure we'd make a few errors along the way, like siting boxes in the wrong place etc. Our aim is to give the Barn Owl more breeding opportunities as natural nesting sites have been lost.

I had the privilege of ringing Barn Owl chicks on The Avenue Washlands in 2014, so we decided to make that the starting point and work our way out from there. The box there had been up for 7 years before it was used so we weren't expecting the new boxes to be used straight away but we all feel optimistic that some of the boxes will be used within a few years.

Our first success with 5 Owls fledging in 2014

The 5 sites are a mixture of private residences & farms, all situated near Matlock, Hardwick & Clay Cross. The first box went up on Valentines day, February 14th 2016. I had been advised that 2 boxes on each site was the best way to go. Once the female had laid eggs the male would require his own roosting box as he is not allowed in the nesting box unless he was bringing in food.

It took around 3 hours to get the first box up, a combination of a big heavy box, naivety and a downfall of snow made it a tricky job!

Suitable sites are found & secured ladders used to attach fixings

A securing bracket is fixed to tree

The boxes were placed in a harness and lifted up ready for fixing

Safety ropes and a steady nerve were required to get the boxes fixed onto the brackets
Then hooked over the bracket to hold in place

Screws were then used to fix the box permanently in position

By box 4, installation times were dropping, we soon realised 2 ladders were better than 1
By the end boxes were being put up in around half hour

Some great locations were found where Barn Owls were known to be in the area

Locations were varied, like this one near Hardwick

Great views for this land owner from his man shed if Owls moved in

A fully installed Barn Owl Box at a Farm near Clay Cross

The next stage is to raise another £450 for 10 more boxes and find 5 more sites for 2017. We are having another wildlife event on July 2nd this year (2016) called 'A Venue for Nature' at The Avenue Washlands Nature reserve near Chesterfield. The theme is to encourage people to invite wildlife into their gardens.
Keep an eye out for more information about this event closer to the time I would love to see you if you fancy a day full of excitement, wildlife walks and workshops.

Team BOB: Me, Ron Turner, Angela Goodwin, Brian Goodwin, Mike Backler & Geoff Ruff
Also a big thank you to Lynne Allsop & Nikki Mahadevan (not in Photo)
Plus of course all of the land owners

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