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World Owl Trust - leading the World in Owl Conservation
Saturday 20th December, 2014

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Rusland Valley Project - 2009

A joint project, ‘The Rusland Valley Barn Owl Project’, run by the World Owl Trust and the Forestry Commission was set up to monitor and improve the Barn Owl population throughout the Rusland Valley and Grizedale Forest area of Cumbria.

Barn Owl on eggs

The World Owl Trust has monitored the Barn Owl population of southwest Cumbria for many years now and was concerned that breeding pairs of barn owls seemed to be concentrated in sites along the north-eastern edge of the project area. Despite favourable habitat being found in and around the Rusland Valley (to the south and western areas), Barn Owl numbers were very low and a lack of suitable nest sites was thought to be the problem.

With the Barn Owl facing a number of problems, breeding pairs have declined dramatically across the UK over many years. A specialist hunter of open rough grassland habitat, the Barn Owl feeds predominantly on the Short-tailed Field Vole. One problem is that voles only live in grassland that is not heavily grazed or regularly cut, a rare habitat in modern times.

The loss of mature hollow hedgerow trees and the conversion of many barns also mean that they have suffered from a lack of quiet secure nest sites. Barn Owls are often forced to hunt along road-side verges where they are at high risk from traffic and, with very little waterproofing, find themselves at the mercy of our weather and not able to hunt in heavy rain. The World Owl Trust has worked for many years to monitor and conserve Barn Owls in Britain through conservation and education, encouraging land owners to manage areas of land with the Barn Owl in mind and also to encourage nest box schemes.

To help conserve the Barn Owl in the Rusland Valley, the aim of the Trust and the Forestry Commission is to encourage the young to disperse throughout the valley by providing suitable nest sites. The project ties in well with the agri-environment grant schemes and, working with Natural England, has installed a number of new nest boxes in barns that have been restored under these schemes. During 2009 five pairs of breeding Barn Owls fledged eleven chicks, some of which we hope will be seen again in the new boxes during 2010 monitoring. Already this year we have recorded a number of sites producing chicks within the project area, one of which we were lucky enough to monitor while out with the BBC Countryfile team in July 2010.

Luckily the Barn Owl will take readily to man-made boxes in buildings, on trees or even in spaces provided in inhabited barn conversions and, with many landowners in the local area keen to help, we hope that together we can conserve this most magical of farmland birds for future generations.

Barn Owlets
Barn Owlets
Photo courtesy Hilary Lange

It is, of course, the future generations who are also key to helping this species and many of the local school children were able to not only learn all about the Barn Owls in their local area but also to meet a very special Barn Owl called ‘Sparky’. To educate over 60 of the local children about the project, a full day of owl activities was run by the joint organisations and held at Grizedales, Yan Building and Visitor Centre. Local schools were invited to come to find out what owls eat, by looking through pellets, while others had the chance to work with local artist Hannah Fox, to make a number of wall hangings, inspired by ‘Sparky’ himself.

Rusland Education Day Wall Hangings
Rusland Education Day Wall Hangings
Photo courtesy Hilary Lange

The project is supported and funded by Nurture Lakeland and although the project timescale is officially three years, both organisations will continue to conserve and monitor Barn Owls in the Rusland Valley area for many years to come.

For more information about Nurture Lakeland, go to their homepage

Hilary Lange

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