Barn owl boxes on the Hadlow Estate
It’s often said that Spring signals new life and new beginnings. It’s hoped this will be particularly true for a certain species of bird at the centre of a conservation project which was established on the Estate several years ago, and which has been boosted recently.
As part of a long standing relationship with the Medway Valley Countryside Partnership, new barn owl boxes have been put up in carefully selected locations around the Estate. It’s hoped the birds will use them to lay eggs and raise their young.
The boxes are made of treated plywood from responsibly sourced timber and can last for up to 15 years. They were created by trainee partnership officers Jake O’Neill and Kallum Wright from the Medway Valley Countryside Partnership, who are sponsored through a Kent County Council scheme to learn skills in conservation and land management.
Mark Pritchard is Manager of the Medway Valley Countryside Partnership and worked with Jake and Kallum to put the boxes up. As he explains, location is everything.
Mark says: “Barn owls are rather a fussy species and particularly require areas where they won’t be too disturbed, which are also at the right height and orientation for them. Our most successful boxes tend to be between 2.5 and 5 metres high and facing in a north easterly direction. They like an open flight path on the edge of woodland, away from south easterly winds. Good food sources such as field voles and shrews also need to be close by, around field edges and among tussocky grass.”
The birds usually lay their eggs in March, which go on to hatch around six weeks later. They will then fledge in late June. Numbers of barn owls have risen nationally in recent years and Mark believes this can be largely attributed to projects such as this.
The most exciting moment for everyone involved will be when Mark returns to the Estate to check all six boxes to see if they’ve been used for breeding. Doing this involves a very polite approach – knocking on the door! Mark will climb a ladder and knock and if there is an adult bird inside, they will fly out and he can then check inside. He has a special licence that allows him to do this survey work.
Mark adds: “It’s very special to be able to get up close and personal with them. When they are very young they are very placid and when you see one flying out of the box you have put up, it can give you a real boost.”
Further kestrel boxes have also been put up around the Estate in addition to those already in position. These simpler, open fronted boxes are also monitored for breeding activity.
Kate Teacher of the Hadlow Estate, says: “The Estate is proud to have been a part of the barn owl project for many years now and it is hugely important to us to be able to contribute to the future of species such as this and help to create safe spaces for them to breed and raise their young.
“It is always a thrill to see a barn owl glide past or kestrels hunting and we are all looking forward to hearing what Mark finds when he checks on the boxes in June.”