Help to put a roof over the barn owls’ heads

THE Countryside Restoration Trust, the charity which works to support and encourage wildlife-friendly, sustainable farming, is appealing for help to raise £30,000 to repair the dilapidated home of barn owls on Bere Marsh Farm near Shillingstone.

Just weeks after moving on to the farm by the river Stour, which is intended to be its showcase property, the trust has a race against time to fix the roof over the roost where the barn owls have bred and nested for decades,

The new roof is needed before winter to protect the family of barn owls from being forced out by the elements.

Elaine Spencer White, a trustee of the Countryside Restoration Trust and the Bere Marsh Farm estate manager, says it would be unthinkable for the farm to lose the barn owls: “It is essential that we rescue them from their plight. We need to do everything we can to make sure that they remain safe because they are the iconic symbols of this wildlife farm.”

The owls, a key indicator species of a healthy eco-system, are regularly spotted by passing families, hikers, naturalists and cyclists and have become a much-loved feature of this beautiful stretch of countryside, close to the river Stour and Hambledon Hill with its huge neolithic earthworks.

The trust hopes that the popularity of the barn owls will help to quickly  raise the money to replace rotten roof timbers and re-tile the 100-year-old barn in the short period between the owls’ completion of the rearing of this year’s chicks and the start of a new breeding cycle with the onset of winter.

CRT fundraising manager, Hayley Neal says: “Barn owls are the pinnacle of the British countryside and the centrepiece of Bere Marsh Farm. They are beautiful birds and are a huge attraction in the area. We want to ensure that their home is safe and secure for them for many years into the future and hope that everyone will join us in raising the money to give them the new roof and security they need if they are to remain at Bere Marsh Farm.”

Barns owls, one of our most beautiful birds of prey, are regularly active in daylight, particularly on long summer evenings when they need to make frequent hunting forays across farmland and meadows to feed their voracious chicks. This ensures regular sightings and their presence in a locality means habitats and food chains are robust and thriving.

Originally, barn owls nested in the roofs of old barns and hollow trees – hence their name. However, recent trends of modernising and converting barns into rural homes have severely reduced their natural habitats and now up to 85 per cent of today’s birds live in specially erected nest boxes.

This makes the Bere Marsh barn owl barn even more important, says Elaine Spencer White: “Restoring and repairing their ancient barn represents everything that the CRT is about and demonstrates how we want to give wildlife a future in our farmland and countryside. We are confident that everyone who visits and walks through our wonderful farm will think the same and contribute to our emergency fund raising drive.”

The repair work will take approximately two weeks to complete and has been scheduled to take place in early October once this year’s chicks have left the nest and before the owls re-start their nesting and breeding cycle in early winter.

Pictured: Barn owls; Countryside Restoration Trust founder-chairman Robin Page with an owlet; farm buildings at Bere Marsh Farm by the Stour in North Dorset.