An owl's day

 
Published: Monday 31 January 2000

The wide banks of the Huntspill River in England are witnessing a dramatic increase in wildlife population. On the advice of the Hawk and Owl Trust (HOT), the National Rivers Authority (NRA) allowed Chris Sperring, conservation officer of HOT, to conduct trials on grassland management. The NRA, meanwhile, paid for 16 pole boxes, erected to encourage barn owls to nest. "It proved that the habitat creation could pay dividends quickly. The owls top the food chain, so when they arrived, we knew their main prey, the field voles and, in turn, the vegetation the voles feed on, were back in high enough density," explains Sperring. Early monitoring shows that the number of water voles was increasing, skylarks were breeding in seven new areas, linner and goldfinch were feeding on seeding long grass, and Huntspill barn owls were up from two to four pairs. There has been an explosion in butterfly species, in particular gatekeeper, meadow brown and marbled white species ( English Nature , November 1999).

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