Blackmore Vale NewsDorset Wildlife

What do you get if you combine a dedicated volunteer with a leftover sandwich and a purpose built barn?

Owlets at Bere Marsh after 20 year Gap

Who can fail to be inspired by the fluffy white face of a barn owl or the sight of these magnificent birds out hunting for prey? Although owls are formidable looking creatures, the environment they need to survive is actually a fragile one. It takes a lot to create the optimal  conditions needed for barn owls to settle in a place and breed. The pair at Bere Marsh had been there for 20 years but never bred owlets. So what happened that made a difference?

Image by: Alan Wicks Photography

Last year, the Countryside Restoration Trust launched an appeal to fund £30,000 worth of repairs to the roof of a tumbledown Victorian barn at Bere Marsh Farm in Shillingstone which was threatening to collapse and force the owls out of their home.  Many local people supported the initiative – North Dorset loves good conservation projects and wildlife. As the money flowed in, the barn was duly restored in three weeks by local roofers, so the owls had shelter and crucially, somewhere to nest.

Bere Marsh has volunteers working with its conservation programme run by the CRT. Photographer Alan “Woody” Wicks volunteers at Bere Marsh and took a special interest in the owls. He has dedicated time to tracking and filming these beautiful birds and is an expert on the subject. His amazing photos and videos are a testament to capturing these moments when the barn owls have been active, and is an insightful appreciation of their beauty. But it was what he did inside the barn with his expertise of barn owl habitats that made a massive difference to what happened next.

Image by: Alan Wicks Photography

Once the Countryside Restoration Trust decided to give over the whole of the Victorian Barn to the barn owls, Alan set about building a “magnet” for rodents like mice, voles, and rats with hay bales, branches, spent grain, and even leftover sandwiches inside the barn. The rodents duly arrived for the party. Now the birds had a ready made larder they settled, and crucially, had a food store in wet and stormy weather when it was impossible to hunt as a barn owl’s wings are not waterproofed. With parent owls assured of food, their babies grew healthy quickly.

Image by: Alan Wicks Photography

The baby owls now had an environment where they could learn to hunt, watched by mum and dad from the perch above them- as well as developing their flying skills. They have grown quickly into healthy youngsters with adept flying and hunting abilities- vital for survival. The support provided to nurture the family are a major reason why the youngsters have developed so quickly into healthy owls and flown the nest already.

Image by: Alan Wicks Photography

The CRT says that up to 85 per cent of the barn owl population now live in nesting boxes, so to have a traditional barn dedicated to these exquisite birds is an authentic means of encouraging more wildlife to the local countryside in the Blackmore Vale. And with the expertise of people like Alan and the team at Bere Marsh, we can look forward to hearing more conservation success stories.

By: Rachael Rowe

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