Dorset Council has recorded its highest number of barn owl chicks yet in its annual monitoring of barn owl boxes at council farms in Dorset.
Over the past four years, 20 barn owl boxes have been installed at a cluster of council-owned farms in North Dorset. This summer, the presence of nine chicks were recorded at four of these farms – the highest number recorded yet.
Since the 1930s the landscape has changed significantly in the UK. And changes in farming practice, lack of food availability, and loss of natural roost and nesting sites in buildings and trees has resulted in a significant decline in barn owl numbers.
Barn owl boxes were first introduced at a sample of suitable sites in 2018 as part of the council’s efforts to increase biodiversity in its farms.
Since then, the boxes have been checked every year by volunteers under a British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) ringing and disturbance license. Any owl found has been recorded and a specially designed ring has been put on its leg. All information gathered is then sent directly to the BTO, helping us understand more about the owls, including their survival and the condition of the birds.
All volunteers involved in the monitoring of the boxes have been trained on how to sensitively check and handle the owls with minimum disturbance. It is a criminal offence for anyone without a licence to disturb a barn owl whilst it is building a nest or is in, on or near a nest containing eggs or young, or to disturb a barn owl’s dependent young.
Alongside boxes, the county farms were given advice by the council’s Natural Environment team on managing farmland with barn owls in mind. By keeping areas of grass uncut and rough edges, tenants and landowners can create habitats for voles which are the main food source of a barn owl.
Trough floats, made by Dorset Wildlife Trust’s Kingcombe volunteers, were also installed at the farms to help prevent owls from drowning when using the troughs to drink.
Cllr Ray Bryan, Dorset Council’s Portfolio Holder for Highways, Travel and Environment, said:
“I am thrilled to hear the efforts of our Natural Environment Team and tenant farmers have had such a positive impact on the number of barn owls in our county.
“As a council, we are committed to tackling the ecological emergency and are working hard to conserve our wildlife-rich county and enhance it wherever we can.”
You can find more information on barn owls, including how to build your own barn owl box, on the Barn Owl Trust website: www.barnowltrust.org.uk .
The installation of barn owl boxes is part of wider efforts by the council to enhance the ecological value of its farms which has also involved increasing hedgerows, creating wildlife corridors and extending wildlife foraging habitats.
You can keep track of the council’s progress in tackling the Climate and Ecological Emergency (CEE) on its social media pages, and by visiting the CEE section of the Dorset Council website.
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