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Cousins working together on our family owned farm with the aim of running a commercial modern farm producing high yielding, high standard crops while maximising wildlife diversity. Brian is said to be the farmer and conservationist, whereas Patrick is a conservationist and farmer. This mix has given a new direction for the farm, building upon the work that our fathers and grandfather has done to improve the overall success of the farm business. The farm has gone from strength to strength with the farm being recognised at a national level winning the coveted National FWAG’s Silver Lapwing Award for farming and conservation in 2009 and then Patrick and Brian were named Countryside Farmer of the Year by the Farmers Weekly in 2010.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Barn Owl Boxes

One of the most interesting projects that we as a farm are involved with is the Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s Suffolk Community Barn Owl Project http://www.suffolkwildlifetrust.org/. The project covers the whole county with over 1200 boxes or natural nest sites monitored by over 100 people throughout the breeding season and is administered by the trust.

On our farms we started with 5 boxes in 2006 and now have 12 spread over the farms in areas that we feel have the best natural habitat to sustain our target species, Barn Owls. Since 2006 I have been through the schedule 1 species disturbance course, ladder training and my ringing training to allow me to inspect the boxes safely and with as little disturbance to any breeding birds as possible. When visiting boxes we are very careful to minimise any disturbance and take all measures to avoid upsetting any birds which can cause abandonment of eggs.
Tawny Owls 2010
Once chicks are hatched it is incredibly rare for a pair to abandon and in fact, the male is not allowed to roost in the box by the female as we believe she does not trust him not to eat them. This process of checking boxes includes blocking the hole before approaching with a ladder or telehandler and when done properly, after looking in a box the birds remain in situ quickly forgetting that they have just someone peering in at them.
This year's adult female at Kiln Farm

In previous years we have had Kestrels, Tawny Owls, Stock Doves and Jackdaws breeding, as well as Barn Owls roosting during the winter but until this year the Barn Owls have gone elsewhere to find a mate or to breed. This year I first inspected the two boxes at Kiln Farm in early June and found 2 adult Barn Owls in one of the boxes there. The female was already proudly wearing a ring and had been ringed as a chick in a nest box by John Walshe in Wetherden in June 2008, making her 3 years old.  The male was not ringed so I did the honours and we will know if he appears anywhere else. I had high hopes for this pair breeding but was disappointed to find an empty box when I re-visited in mid July.

At Westhorpe I was aware of Barn Owls in residence in one of the barns and was hoping they would stay to breed. The barn was out of bounds to everyone from March and I did not check the box until early June to avoid any unnecessary disturbance.
The view inside the box
On my first visit there was one adult, at least a couple of young chicks and two unhatched eggs which I was very pleased with. My second visit was on 12th July and revealed only one chick with 2 dead ones in the box and having watched the barn for a while, only one adult which I have later found to be a female. I am confident that the chick fledged successfully but believe that either the male left or was killed whilst the chicks were young, leaving the female to try to hunt for 3 and herself.

The Westhorpe Female
I am a little disappointed to go from great optimism early in the season to only one chick fledging but it is one more Barn Owl chick than we have had in previous years so fingers are already crossed for next year! In the other boxes around Lodge Farm, Westhorpe, Stock Doves have been breeding in at least 4 of the boxes almost continuously from April and are still going and one of the boxes is about to fledge it’s 5th pair of chicks for the year! In the other boxes there was a brood of 3 Jackdaws at Westhorpe Hall, a pair of Tawny Owl chicks near the church. The box on Kiln Lane contained a family of Kestrels, one adult female and 4 chicks. The adult was already ringed and was one that I had ringed at the same stage a year earlier. Last year she raised 3 chicks at Westhorpe Hall and went one better this year.

The round of late visits looking for any second or late broods to all of these boxes have showed that all the chicks fledged successfully.

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