In 2020, generous donations enabled us to save the Victorian barn at Bere Marsh Farm, a nesting site for barn owls, from collapse

Carpenters, tilers and scaffolders swooped to the rescue of the beloved but endangered barn owls of Bere Marsh Farm and saved them from the threat of homelessness as winter approached. 

Working swiftly, but with great sensitivity so as not to dislodge the iconic owls from the tumbledown barn they have occupied for almost 20 years, the team literally put a new roof over their heads in matter of weeks. 

It marks a brilliantly successful race against time by The CRT. Farm Manager Elaine Spencer White said:

We are both relieved and delighted that the owls are now safe for many years to come. We could not have asked for a better repair team. Not only was their work superb but they had to do it within a very tight time frame and, most important of all, without upsetting or disturbing the resident male owl. Just for good measure they’ve even patched up his nesting box inside the barn which had become a bit dilapidated over the years. I think they developed quite a soft spot for him as he regularly flew around them whilst they were working. 

 

'The most exhilarating and challenging job I’ve worked on since becoming a carpenter' 

Sam Watts, one of the two carpenters from Saxon Roofing Services who helped replace the rotten roof timbers on the barn, stressed how much important it was to work sensitively and not disturb the resident male owl. 

‘We had to be so careful so as not to unsettle him or frighten him from returning to his nest box in the barn every night. It was a bit nerve wracking at first but eventually he got to know us and was curious about what we were doing. 

‘Without doubt this was the most exhilarating and challenging job I’ve worked on since becoming a carpenter. The male owl was just phenomenal to see flying so close to us whilst we were working. He’s got such a personality and it was a joy and privilege to work on such an important job,’ says Sam.  

Carpenter's 'awesome' barn owl experience

Repaired owl box with supporting shelf - an additional special feature installed by Saxon Roofing Services 

Built in perches for the owls - an additional special feature installed by Saxon Roofing Services 

The iconic barn owl

Barn owls are a keystone indicator species of a healthy eco-environment, and are regularly spotted at Bere Marsh by passing families, hikers and cyclists using the trailways and paths which criss-cross the 92-acre farm – making them a much loved feature of the surrounding idyllic countryside. 


 

Numbers of barn owls have started to increase since steep declines in the 1970’s & 80’s.  This is reflected in their status changing from amber to green between 2009 & 2015 in the “Birds of Conservation Concern” review.  It is encouraging to have some positive news highlighting that a concerted conservation effort can help reverse a declining trend of a species’ decline and it is important that this trend is maintained. Barn owls still face constant threats from many factors including conversion of buildings that they use for raising young and hunting. This made the Barn Owl Barn at Bere Marsh even more important to restore for it represents one of the few remaining settings in which the iconic species of the British countryside can be seen in its natural surroundings. Barn owls have adapted exceedingly well to using man-made nest boxes and it is estimated that over a quarter of the breeding population now use them. In areas where there is plentiful food this is a really effective way to help ensure numbers continue to increase.    

The nest box and perches and beams inside the “Barn Owl Barn” at Bere Marsh Farm are valuable to the owls as the barn itself is central within an important hunting ground. The barn owls have successfully reared young every year since the barn was re-roofed in 2020. 

Pellets and predators

Owl pellets are collected on a monthly basis and analysed by a local volunteer Sue Double, who has a BSc in Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology and Zoology.  From this she produces an annual report of her findings which provides a wonderfully detailed picture of what the owls are eating and is vital for planning how to manage the land at Bere Marsh Farm.

Sue says “Apart from foxes and badgers (and perhaps otters), large raptors, such as owls, are really Britain's only apex predators left. Without them herbivores (such as voles, mice and rabbits etc) with their high reproductive rates, would soon proliferate, with the subsequent inevitable damage to the environment and to crops.” “Barn owls and others perform invaluable 'ecosystem services' for us by controlling herbivore numbers. All they ask in return is some rough grassland habitat to hunt and somewhere safe and sheltered to roost and raise their young.” 

“Aside from all the above, I think the world would be a poorer place without the beautiful and ethereal sight of a barn owl silently quartering a field at dusk.

 

How you can help

We are currently running twelve appeals to support the countryside in our Twelve Gifts of Christmas campaign. This includes raising money to support another of our CRT farms, Brays Farm in Surrey, so we can buy materials to build owl nest boxes to attract barn owls back to nesting here once again. You can make a donation from yourself or as a Christmas gift for friends and family at Nest boxes for barn owls.

Nest boxes for barn owls                       Twelve Gifts of Christmas