Barn Owl Care Provided

Each year all owl boxes erected within The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group Barn Owl Conservation Area are visited in the winter months to be cleaned and maintained. Any damaged boxes are repaired or replaced. This year we found three boxes that required renewal. Two were repaired off-site by a member of the volunteer team who is highly skilled in practical engineering techniques and one was replaced with a new one. The two boxes requiring repair were extensively damaged and had to be removed and transported back to his workshop for restoration.

 

Each box in the large conservation area receives a maintenance visit each winter.

 

When repaired a second visit to each site was undertaken to erect them again. This repair work saved us a lot of money in replacement box costs. It does however, extended the duration of the activity which occurs during the worst months of the year for bad weather. The task has to be completed before the owl breeding season begins in spring to prevent breeding disturbance, so with a lot of unsuitable days occurring it is a difficult one to achieve in the allotted time. Fortunately all team members are sufficiently committed to give up their valuable time to give it priority but it often means setting aside three or four days a week to capitalise on good weather opportunities.

 

Some very damaged boxes like the one found in this location have to be replaced. This shows the new box being fitted by the owl team.

 

The effort required on each visit to a box location can be considerable and a feeling of exhaustion at the end of a working day is not uncommon. Some locations take 20 minutes to walk from our vehicles to the chosen box carrying ladders and heavy equipment over wet and sticky ground. The mud sticks to our boots making each step more difficult than the last and this effort severely limits the number of boxes we can maintain in a day. The weather is always cold which makes handling ladders and tools difficult as much of the work has to be performed without gloves. In addition to the cleaning out and painting on site, repair work is often required especially where squirrel damage has occurred.

 

This shows another new box being erected and the amount of equipment required to undertake it.

 

This year we found 5 boxes which had squirrels nesting in them and all were extensively damaged by their uncontrolled gnawing. This required patches to be applied to the holes in the exterior walls of the box and bird friendly repellent inserted in each after the unwelcome nesting debris had been removed. The grey squirrel population has increased considerably in recent years to a degree that is proving exceedingly expensive for us to combat the damage they cause. Two thirds of the tawny owl boxes we had also erected in previous years have been totally destroyed and we have been forced to remove them as further repairs are pointless with re-occupation occurring as soon as we have departed. With the re-occupation comes continuing damage.

 

Every box is sited in a suitable location to give maximum habitat benefit to the owls.

 

Our barn owl box visits revealed 15 roosting owls this year which was less than the 22 we found last year. Last year proved to be a bumper year for the number of boxes being used for breeding, consequently it may mean that this year won’t be quite so successful. It largely depends on the spring weather and the availability of mice and voles for them to eat.  The majority of the boxes were full of barn owl pellets which indicated they were continuing to provide welcome shelter for the owls and supporting their population number.

 

Many boxes are found to be occupied by roosting barn owls. The following pictures show some of the ones encountered this winter.

 

They leave as soon as they hear the team arrive.

 

They fly to the nearest tree cover or another box and wait for the work to finish.

 

Their silent but graceful flight is a distinctive feature of this species of owl.

 

Normally they don’t leave the boxes until dusk when they venture out to hunt for food.

 

It is therefore a rewarding sight to see them in daylight.

 

The conservation team members complete the work as speedily as possible to minimise the disturbance time and often see the owls returning when they depart.

 

Increasing the survival prospects of the barn owl population is the prime reason for our effort and our conservation area is religiously attended and monitored by highly motivated team members to further the interests of the owls in the 15 rural settlement area it now covers. Without this dedication, sacrifice of personal time and the hard work required, the survival prospects for our local barn owls would be severely diminished.

Woodland Pond Assistance Received

The Sayers Common woodland pond which had been progressively restored by The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group since 2013 had been subjected to a massive spread of reeds during the summer. This was mainly due to the very hot weather experienced in 2018 which caused the pond to dry up completely but with dampness remaining in the silt that their roots flourish in. This problem, when  added to the on-going difficulty of containing the continuously sprouting willow stumps that had previously been cut down within the pond, but had been far too difficult to remove the roots, proved a major headache for the group to tackle.

The restored pond was a haven for wildlife.

 

This followed years of  dedicated work by group volunteers.

 

The pond was continuously maintained to keep it in good condition.

 

In the heat of the summer in 2018 the pond vegetation became rampant.

 

Despite our considerable effort we could not get on top of the vigorous spread.

Each reed root had a spread of over half a metre and proved very difficult to pull out to restore the area to a pond rather than a reed bed. The hot weather also caused the willow growth to accelerate so that cutting back was required several times during the summer season. Volunteers gamely tackled the problem but struggled to make much impact in the near-tropical conditions as re-growth seemed to be overtaking their clearance effort. It was at this point that the landowners of the area, generously offered to step in to give assistance to our difficult task. We discussed the problem and they came to our aid by employing  a firm of specialist professional contractors to help us at their own expense as a donation to support our work.

 

Specialist contractors were employed by the landowners to help us.

With the massive mechanical equipment the contractors had at their disposal, the willow stumps were quickly removed and the reed roots taken out with the extraction of the silt they grew in. The improvement was instantaneous and open water was once again restored for the wildlife to return to.

 

The stubborn willow stumps and reed roots were no match for the giant machines and were skilfully removed.

 

The pond very quickly became the open water attraction for wildlife once more. 

 

This allows us once again to manage this valuable location to keep it in good condition. 

We are obviously extremely grateful to the landowners for their generosity which has allowed us once again to keep on top of the maintenance task required each year to keep it in the condition it deserves following the tremendous number of volunteer man-hours spent on its restoration. This now fully compliments the ecological value of the surrounding countryside and woodland area.

Nature Reserve Restoration

Since 2009 The Woodland Flora & Fauna Group has been inspecting and maintaining bat and bird boxes within a small wood on Talbot Field Nature Reserve in Hassocks on behalf of Hassocks Parish Council. The area has proved very successful with the majority of boxes always occupied. The bat species mostly found are Common Pipistrelle, Soprano Pipistrelle and Brown Long-eared with mostly Blue Tits, Great Tits and Nuthatches occupying the bird boxes. The wood provides a welcome sanctuary for these species.

 

The woodland is a valued sanctuary for bats and birds. 

The reserve generally had progressively become very overgrown with brush and unwanted seedlings spreading throughout the area since and our group was approached by the Council to enquire if we would be prepared to remedy the problem. Talbot Field is an extremely valuable location providing much needed opportunities for nature to flourish again so agreement was readily given.

 

The thick bramble understorey advances across the surrounding meadow.

Elsewhere brush of all descriptions determinedly spreads throughout the reserve.

Initially we removed the densely spreading white poplar saplings which had invaded the reserve via windborne seeds from neighbouring species and cleared overgrown footpaths. We then tackled the thick growth of bramble which was rapidly spreading outwards from the wood. Bramble growth, mixed with stinging nettles was also invading the reserve around the boundaries.

 

Spreading white poplar saplings were speedily tackled by group volunteers.

Volunteers are steadily tackling the overall task and already significant progress has been made. The dense bramble removal is proving to be very challenging but work will continue until the reserve is once again in a well-managed condition for the benefit of nature.

 

All cleared cuttings were burnt as piles were created.

 

The wood as it appeared later after clearance work had been undertaken by the volunteers.

Hopefully next season when all restoration work is finished, Talbot Field will flourish with increased vigour to significantly benefit the indigenous flora and fauna species. These benefits to the natural world are the reason our volunteers work so hard and give up hours of their valuable time to achieve. We are very fortunate to receive such support and are extremely grateful for it, as we are for the generosity of Hassocks Parish Council in designating this location as an area for nature.

Meadow Cut At Pond Lye SNCI Continues

Work has steadily continued with the annual meadow cut at Pond Lye SNCI. It resumed in the late summer when group volunteers gathered to undertake the task of cutting all meadow growth and removing it.

Volunteers tackle the annual meadow cut.

Having now cleared the meadow of the jungle of brush that had virtually destroyed it, all attention is being given to restoring its quality so that all previously recorded distinctive flora species can return. This is a task which like the original brush removal, will take many years to achieve.

  The meadow is cut in sections.

The cutting operation is a considerable one for our volunteers to complete. The meadow covers an area of approximately 6 acres and takes a long time to cut so the more volunteers we can attract the easier it is to undertake.

Brush cutter operators begin the task.

 

Progressively the selected area is cut.

 

The cuttings are raked up and burnt.

 

Each volunteer selects an area to complete.

This year we were fortunately joined by a volunteer with a tractor and cutter who kindly assisted us. This helped us enormously and advanced our task significantly towards completion.

Our tractor volunteer steps in to assist.

 

The difference his help made was enormous.

 

Within a few hours he had competed a whole section of the meadow which would have taken weeks with brush cutters and scythes.

 

He then moved on to another section of more difficult terrain.

Due to the rough terrain in many areas with ant hills etc., the tractor and cutter were unable to cover the whole meadow but have completed a vast area.

The progress viewed from the car park entrance when the tractor work was completed was impressive and we are extremely grateful for this assistance.

The remaining difficult areas are being tackled with brush cutters and scythes and will hopefully be completed in the next few months, weather permitting. We are very grateful to all our volunteers for their help. If you are able to provide any assistance please contact us as there is a lot of raking and burning still to do.

Due to the uneven ground in many areas the tractor and cutter were unable to cover the whole meadow but have completed a tremendous amount. Completion is hoped for in the next few weeks when the remaining difficult areas are cut by hand. 

Local Bat Population Flourishes

Each year we inspect all of the bat boxes that we have erected around the local countryside to provide roosting habitat for this threatened species of wildlife. This year we found a lot of residents in the scores of boxes erected in many woodlands proving that our effort is contributing to their well-being. The summer has been a good one for warm weather and insects and the bats have capitalised on this.

 

One of the occupants found in our many boxes this year.

Breeding takes place earlier in the summer and when we inspect the boxes later in the season the young are mostly faring for themselves. Bats are sociable creatures and it is not uncommon to find groups clustered in the boxes, although the number found varies generally from one to ten. Not all boxes have residents in as they tend to move around a lot to obtain the best current locations which are dictated by weather and warmth. Even when empty there is a lot of evidence of use from the droppings left so we can determine whether a box has been occupied recently.

 

Two Soprano Pipistrelle Bats found huddled together in another box.

 

A pair of Common Pipistrelle bats enjoying the box sanctuary provided in one of the many woodlands we survey.

 

A young bat found attached to a removed door is gently returned to the safety of the box.

The task requires a dedicated working party of volunteers to manhandle the sections of ladders needed to get up to examine the boxes and a licenced person to undertake the activity. This year we were fortunate with good weather whilst undertaking the task so it was possible to achieve up to three excursions to different woodlands each week. Wet or windy weather makes the activity hazardous as the  boxes are mounted high in the trees. With wet ground the ladder can slip despite a volunteer standing on the bottom and trees swaying in the wind move the ladder resting against it. This is why inspection dates are chosen carefully to avoid these situations.

 

The success of the task is dependant on willing volunteers.

 

Considerable effort is required to transport and erect the ladder sections.

 

Every box is examined and results recorded.

 

Each working party member carries a section of the ladder between the boxes.

 

A hibernation box is examined for occupancy and cleaned out for future residents.

 

Written and photographic records are created for each occupant found.

This year we found a predominance of Common and Soprano Pipistrelle bats unlike last year when Brown Long-eared bats were more in evidence. Each bat presence is recorded and the results submitted to a national database which continuously monitors population numbers. We are fortunate to have volunteers who are prepared to undertake this very strenuous activity and are grateful for their enthusiasm and help. This year Mike, Steve and Jennie gave up many days of their valuable time to join me on this important exercise.

 

This gathering of Soprano Pipistrelles we found in one box demonstrates the value of our conservation initiative towards their survival.