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Stonham Aspal: Tawny owl chick numbers soar

Roger Buxton in Stonham Aspal

Roger Buxton in Stonham Aspal

Archant

This time last year, wildlife conservationist Roger Buxton was lamenting a scarcity of nesting tawny owl chicks in the Suffolk countryside.

But a mild winter seems to have effected a dramatic turn in fortune for the local woodland population.

In the spring of 2013, Mr Buxton, a wildlife artist who has been ringing and recording owls for the last 15 years, found not a single chick in any of his Thornham Owl Project’s 44 nesting boxes between the Waveney Valley and the River Gipping.

This year, however, has eclipsed all expectations, with an incredible 27 fledglings occupying 11 boxes inhabited since nesting season began.

Mr Buxton, from Stonham Aspal, said: “This is the best year I can remember.

“It proves how the weather can affect owl population. Last year, from all the owl boxes we checked, we found just two adults.”

Mr Buxton raises money for materials to build nesting boxes for owls, which are erected in woodland by permission of willing landowners. Birds are then ringed and monitored by the project, now based at the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary, in Stonham Aspal.

Last year’s disappointing find led experts to think that depleted numbers of small prey may have be to blame.

Although the artificial nests are able to withstand poor weather, the decline in numbers may have been due to lack of food.

The tawny typically nests in woodland, feeding on voles and shrews. Like many species, it appeared to have suffered the effects of a cruel winter and cold spring.

Winter of 2007 was particularly mild, and led to 17 nesting tawny chicks being found in just 10 inhabited boxes.

Numbers remained fairly steady over the next few years, with 16 chicks ringed in 2009 and 17 ringed in 2010 and 2011. A slight dip in numbers was recorded the following year, when 14 chicks were found in seven occupied boxes, but last year’s decline - and this year’s boon - have been unprecedented in the area.

To find out more about the wild owl nesting project, offer suitable woodland habitat or make a contribution to building and maintaining boxes, visit owl-help.org.uk or call 0845 6807897.

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