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New homes for barn owls

On a crisp sunny day just before Christmas, the Sheffield Lakeland team from Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust, put up their first new barn owl box. A large oak tree in the Bradfield area, close to where barn owls have recently been seen, was carefully chosen for the location of nest box. It was attached around 5m up the tree, looking out across open countryside to give it the best chance of being seen by a flying barn owl looking for a place to nest. With more boxes planned to be put up before spring, the team and their volunteers will have a busy winter.

This is just one of the projects being delivered by the Sheffield Lakeland Landscape Project, supported by the players of the National Lottery.

The locations for each new box have been carefully selected by volunteers, supported by our Nature Recovery Officer, Nicki Dyas. Nicki said “Last autumn our volunteers helped us conduct a barn owl habitat survey of the Sheffield Lakeland area, allowing us to map areas of suitable habitat and pin-point suitable trees for nest boxes. Putting up new nest boxes is just one part of our Supporting Species project in the Lakeland area”.

The nest boxes for our project are being made by one of our volunteers, Philip. The boxes are specifically designed to attract barn owls that in the past would have nested in holes in trees or old barns. With a sharp decline in the number of mature trees with holes and accessible barns, putting up barn owl nest boxes can help to support local barn owl populations. They are deep enough so that the owlets can’t fall out, and include features such as a platform for the young owls to hop onto whilst stretching their wings. There is also a hatch at the front so that the box can be cleaned out after the nesting season, sprucing up the accommodation ready to welcome the next barn owl family the following year.

The Sheffield Lakeland team have been working closely with landowners and local groups in the Sheffield Lakeland area to maintain and increase the amount of ideal barn owl habitat and add to the number of possible nesting sites by getting permission to install new nest boxes. But we would love to hear from any other land/property owners within the Lakeland area who’d like to work with us and may have a suitable location for a barn owl box.

New barn owl box in Bradfield. Photograph © N Baker

Background

Barn owls are one of 5 species of owl found in Britain and can be seen all year round. Numbers of barn owls crashed in the mid-20th century, due to pesticide use, and although they’re now thought to be increasing, there may only be around 4,000 breeding pairs within the U.K., according to the RSPB.

Barn owls have specially adapted feathers which enable them to fly silently whilst hunting. This gives them an advantage over their prey but comes at the cost of not being very waterproof. This makes it difficult for them to fly in wet weather, so in a wet spring they may struggle to be able to feed their young.

About Sheffield Lakeland Landscape Partnership

Sheffield Lakeland Landscape Partnership is managed by Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust, working together with Sheffield City Council, Bradfield Parish Council, Stocksbridge Town Council, Yorkshire Water, Natural England and the Environment Agency and representatives of landowners and local access groups. The Partnership will deliver a £3.4m package of projects conserving and celebrating the natural, built and cultural heritage of north-west Sheffield over the next 4 years. £2.6m funding towards the Partnership has been awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund with matched funding provided by Partners.

About the Heritage Lottery Fund

Thanks to National Lottery players, we invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about – from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. www.hlf.org.uk.

Featured photograph: Barn owl in flight: © Andy Rouse/2020VISION