Since 2014, we have been working with the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) and the Hawk Conservancy Trust to monitor Barn owl populations within the local landscape. The Barn owl Tyto alba is widely spread across Europe, but has suffered declines in the UK owing to a change in agricultural practices, decrease in prey, use of pesticides and traffic collisions.
As part of Marwell’s ongoing work to restore habitats, we manage the 45 hectares of chalk grassland on our estate using traditional meadow management approaches, creating ideal hunting habitats for this important farmland bird.
Our collaborative efforts to restore chalk meadows working with the SDNPA led to our involvement in their Barn Owl Box scheme (Project BOB). The monitoring scheme sees experts health checking and ringing Barn owl chicks to record their breeding success, body condition and begin to understand their wider movements. The ringing itself is part of a scheme run by the British Trust for Ornithology with the Barn Owl Trust, to uniquely identify each owl.
South Downs countryside ranger, Rob Nicholls, and conservation biologist Dr. Matt Stevens from the Hawk Conservancy Trust are leading project BOB. Last week, Rob and Matt stopped by to carry out their annual barn owl checks. They were delighted to inform us that it has been our most successful year yet! Matt, who monitors boxes from Chichester to Swindon, has discovered a total of 13 new barn owl chicks so far this year - and six of these were born on the Marwell estate. The detailed measurements that the team recorded included weight, wing feather development and wing length, which helps to determine the chick’s age.
Since we became a partner in Project BOB, several students from our MRes in Wildlife Conservation (jointly run between Marwell Wildlife and the University of Southampton) have carried out their research projects on barn owls in the South Downs National Park. They have explored critical questions around the owl’s breeding success, and how prey and habitat requirements impact this remarkable species.
The work on this species will help us understand more about their dispersal, activity and what predictors are important for their breeding success. Marwell Wildlife is not only helping to conserve this charismatic farmland bird, but through this work also enhance the health of the food chain and the wider environment.
Did you know?
- After being born, Barn owls don't usually venture out of their box until they are around nine weeks old. Once out, they have a flap about and start using their wing muscles, developing them for flight.
- Barn owls make a hissing sound as a form of defence when disturbed.
- Most Barn owls do not travel more than 20 kilometres from their base. However, some have been tracked to oil rigs and even as far as France!