Owl symposium in North Wessex Downs

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John Dellow shares his Barn Owl tales with the audience

Networked groups of the The Pang, Kennet and Lambourn Valley Countryside Project FWAG recently held a Local Barn Owl Synergy Symposium hosted at Sheepdrove Eco Conference Centre. The event bought together country enthusiasts who might not have previously thought of working together, yet all have the chance to help Barn Owl populations in the region.

Countryside and community groups included The Ramblers, the Wychwood Barn Owl project from Oxfordshire, Butterfly Conservation volunteers, landowners, farmers and farm wildlife advisers from Wiltshire and Berkshire – all operating in North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and beyond.

”It was all about coming together to discuss local conservation opportunities, join up our efforts and fill the gaps on the map,” said Karen Davies from the Pang, Kennet and Lambourn Valleys Countryside Project FWAG.
“The volunteers have made a big difference in partnership with land managers but there is plenty of potential to bring even more Barn Owls back to our countryside. We are always learning from the success of those volunteers and landowners who have been helping Barn Owls for a very long time in this area – and sharing that knowledge,” said Karen.

Presentations from Karen Davies and John Dellow, volunteer coordinator for the Pang Valley, summarised how the local groups have been able to establish many new Barn Owl nest sites, by fitting with their habitat needs, and working with farmers who have adopted stewardship options to suit the birds, such as grass buffer strips, hedges and wet meadow management. The talks highlighted the value of site monitoring in building a long-term record of what conservation work was achieving for the Barn Owl.

Jason Ball, who is Sheepdrove’s resident naturalist and coordinator of the Lambourn Valley Barn Owl Group, said, “One of the highlights was the photography in John Dellow’s excellent talk, showing us the hidden life of Barn Owls and the other species which are boosted by these habitat improvements and nest boxes.”

“What’s exciting now is how delegates will take this forward by combining their conservation work with ours – for instance, conserving rough grass for Marbled White butterflies or Water Vole also helps Barn Owls by providing small mammal prey!”

The local events were awarded financial support from the Sustainable Development Fund of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, funds from Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre and the Friends of the Pang Kennet and Lambourn Valleys. The symposium was also subsidised by Sheepdrove Organic Farm.

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