Somerset residents are being asked to help protect one of the counties most iconic species, this winter, with the launch of Somerset Wildlife Trust’s barn owl appeal. The launch of the appeal marks the half-way point in the Trust’s ambitious project to get a barn owl nest box in every parish of the county.
Thanks to the help of more than 500 volunteers, half of the project’s 335 nest boxes are built, and being put in place by local communities. Last week a nest box was presented to staff and volunteers at Moldrams Local Nature Reserve, near Wincanton, which is managed by South Somerset District Council.
The project has also seen more than 1,000 children learning about barn owl conservation, including pupils at North Town School in Taunton and Chilton Cantelo School, near Yeovil, who last week received a visit from Beau the Barn Owl and Chris Sperring MBE, Conservation Officer for the Hawk and Owl Trust and Vice President of Somerset Wildlife Trust.
As the three-year project enters its first winter the Trust has launched an appeal to raise £30,000 to support the Somerset Community Barn Owl Project over the next two years. Somerset Wildlife Trust’s Project Manager Jessy Emery explains: “Winter can be a tough time for a lot of wildlife, not least the barn owl whose numbers can plummet during harsh weather. Extreme winters in the 1940s and 1960s wiped out over half the UK population and barn owls have struggled to recover ever since. More than 80 per cent of barn owls now nest and raise their young in man-made boxes like the ones going up in every parish of Somerset.”
The project is a collaboration with the Hawk and Owl Trust, and all the farmers and landowners who are hosting parish boxes have received a visit and advice on habitat creation from Chris Sperring. The project has been supported with funds from Viridor Credits Environmental Company, and donations from local people will provide vital match funding.
Recent records indicate that there are currently just 200 breeding pairs in Somerset, and their population in the UK has dropped by as much as 70% since the 1930s. The project aims to address this decline by providing nest sites and creating more rough, grassland hunting habitat. In October the project celebrated its first breeding success with four baby owlets photographed on the sill of a nest box which went up at a Viridor landfill site, near Puriton, in Sedgemoor. With so many boxes already in place the Trust wants to start a comprehensive monitoring and recording programme next spring.
To donate go to www.somersetwildlife.org/barnowlappeal or call 01823 652400.