Our volunteers at Bere Marsh Farm in Dorset have been busy building boxes for barn owls, using all the wood and resources we bought through your generous donations for our Twelve Gifts of Christmas campaign. 

Upon completion the owl boxes will be transported and installed at Brays Farm in Surrey to encourage barn owls to come and nest here. Nestled in the Surrey Weald, on the edge of South Nutfield village, 52-acre Brays Farm is noted for both barn owls, little owls, kestrels, and swallows. 

Although barn owls hunt over the farm fields, there are no nest boxes for them to settle in and breed and raise young. Brays Farm used to be home to these majestic birds and we would like them to return – and now thanks to your generous donations, we will hopefully see this happen in coming years. We won’t know to what extent the boxes are being used until late June.  

Wildlife box for barn owls Barn owl fledging

CRT Conservation Officer Vince Lea, holds a barn owl licence, required to monitor the nesting boxes.

“Checking the boxes has to be perfectly timed,” Vince says.  “If you check too early, and the owls suspect their nest has been discovered, they may flee and abandon their eggs. If you check too late, the chicks could attempt to flee before they are fully able to fly and then they become vulnerable to prey.”  

The conservation officers responsible for monitoring the barn owls have to observe from a distance to know whether the box is being used, based on how many hunting trips the male bird makes and how much prey he brings back to the nest.  

“The female remains in the nest with the eggs, while the male has to find food. If the male’s hunting trips become a lot more frequent to find more food, we can be fairly certain that the chicks have hatched. That’s when we might make our move to carefully check the box,” Vince explains. 

Credit Geoff Harries

Important indicator species

Barn owls are an important indicator species on British farmland; their presence shows that habitats and food chains are in a healthy condition.

Resident barn owls also regurgitate a large number of pellets. These pellets consist of undigested bones and fur, and create a unique environment that supports a range of specialist invertebrates, including beetles and moths, whose larvae extract the remaining nutrients from the pellets. 

These are not the only reasons that barn owls are a boon as their hunting regulates the number of small mammals on the farm and they are able to adjust their breeding performance to match the available prey.  

During the summer when they’re hunting for food for their young, the sight of them flying across the meadows is breath taking.  

Let’s hope our combined efforts deliver that treat for the eyes in 2024. 

How you can help

We can’t do it without you. If you want to help us protect local wildlife you can support the CRT in any number of ways, from joining as a CRT Friend to volunteering on one of our farms and attending our events. You can also sign-up to our monthly newsletter 'CRT News' for regular updates from our farms, straight to your inbox.

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Published: April 2024