In November 2013 BOAG was awarded with funding from The Alice Noakes Memorial Charitable Trust to work on experimental barn owl nest boxes. This followed issues the group was having with recent imports of poor quality exterior grade plywood (used in nest box construction) which lead to many nest boxes delaminating and degrading in the wet and damp weather. BOAG initially switched to using the more expensive marine plywood for box construction. Then funding became available for the group to experiment with different materials and also provided an opportunity for the group to look at different nest box designs. BOAG was looking for an alternative durable material to construct a box that was not too weighty to install in a tree whilst considering cost implications.
BOAG constructed boxes using various recycled plastic sheets of different thicknesses and worked on different designs veering away from the usual 'A' frame box design, to curved and angled roof tops. The recycled plastic sheets have provided a material which is flexible to work with and which should be weather proof. The new box designs have been installed and are now trialling. BOAG is hoping for barn owls to occupy and start breeding in the new nest boxes as this will be a good gauge of their success.
On the back of the funding from The Alice Noakes Memorial Charitable Trust BOAG has recently been awarded with match funding from the Churnet Valley Living Landscapes Project (CVLLP) and the Heritage Lottery Fund. The CVLLP borders the Peak District and Staffordshire Moorlands around Leek, which is a stronghold for barn owls in Staffordshire. Following 2013, which was a devastating year for breeding barn owls, the funding from CVLLP will enable BOAG to install ten barn owl nest boxes. These will be at sites with good barn owl habitat in the stronghold and project area. By installing nest boxes at sites of good barn owl habitat the project will help to conserve a species which is part of the integral biodiversity of the region by providing much needed roost and nest sites and so helping to conserve part of the natural heritage of the area.
The recently published HS2 : Phase 1 Environmental Statement ecology report highlights The Proposed Scheme as having the potential to affect barn owls by causing the loss or fragmentation of nesting, roosting or foraging habitats, the potential causing disturbance during construction period and the potential for collision by moving trains. Barn owls are at risk of collision because barn owls hunt low over the rough grassland habitats that are associated with road verges and rail embankments and are slow moving. Collision with trains have the potential to affect barn owl populations up to 1.5km from the railway line (Shawyer, 2011).
BOAG believes that barn owls will be negatively impacted by the proposed HS2 scheme and it will have implications for conservation work to help preserve and protect the species.
Allowing for a 3km boundary along the proposed HS2 route would mean a loss of an area of 21,580 ha in Staffordshire, of which, there could be potential habitat providing opportunities for barn owls. BOAG has already installed 23 barn owl nest boxes along the 3km boundary of the proposed HS2 route through Staffordshire. Data from BOAG monitoring records from 2005 to 2013 note that there have been 8 breeding pairs of barn owls producing 21 chicks in these nest boxes and 5 boxes have been used as roost sites. BOAG records are from monitored nest box sites which do not account for natural nest and roost sites so the impact on barn owls is likely to be greater than BOAG records indicate.
BOAG records of dead barn owls reported to the group, collated between 2007 to 2013 show that there have been 32 records of barn owls found dead along roads in Staffordshire; 8 found dead suffering malnutrition; 11 unknown cases and 2 dead barn owls found along railway lines. These records do not give a full picture but do give an indication of barn owl mortality where birds have been found and reported to BOAG. It is worth noting that dead barn owls along roads are more often seen and reported than those hit along remote rail lines with no public access.
From ringing records we do know that young fledge as far as 20km or more from the nest site so, dispersing barn owls from further-a-field than the 3km boundary have the potential to encounter the proposed HS2 line and may be adversely affected.
BOAG relies on barn owl records reported by the public to help build up a picture of the barn owl population in Staffordshire, providing invaluable data. Should you see a barn owl or find a dead barn owl, especially one which has been ringed, please send in the details to either BOAG or Staffordshire Wildlife Trust as it enables us to comment on proposed schemes such as HS2.
During 2014 BOAG found four pairs of barn owls in nest boxes within the 3km buffer of the proposed HS2 route in Staffordshire. The four pairs successfully reared 18 barn owl chicks in all.