The Barn Owl nest box project.
In 2010 the Society was fortunate to inherit the funds of the Stort Valley Project in Sawbridgeworth which had ceased existence. The money was rapidly converted into 12 mm plywood and eight large A-frame Barn Owl nest boxes constructed.
At the same time Gilston Parish Council had obtained Big Lottery funding for 40 such boxes. The writer somehow got inveigled into this project and over the coming year worked with Peter Wilkinson from the Hawk and Owl Trust to firstly build the boxes which arrive flat packed and secondly to find suitable sites for their erection.
The latter was not an inconsiderable task, firstly a favourable landowner had to be contacted and then suitable trees (Peter advised that the boxes are best put up in pairs so that the male bird has somewhere to go to if the female is incubating and this also avoids conflict with other nesting box species such as the Kestrel). The trees have to be accessible, of a landscape nature so as to be noticed by the birds, be adjacent to grassland feeding areas, avoiding railway lines and busy roads which can easily cause fatalities and be of a slow growing nature avoiding trees such as Willow and Poplar which grow so fast as to throw the box off.
It was discovered that we could put up six boxes in one day as long as the box had been transported to the site beforehand which meant extra work. The boxes were put up no higher than 12 feet for safety reasons, they were held in place with 15mm nylon bolts which neither harm the tree nor any machinery used later on if the tree should need to be felled or processed.
In the final analysis 38 boxes were put up from Manuden to Roydon. Some boxes had to be put up in less favourable sites as members of the Parish Council liked to have a box on their property! Inspections in subsequent years have shown that the greater number of boxes have been used, some by Stock Doves, several by Barn Owls which had a great success in 2014, it being a Short Tailed Vole year. Less welcome occupants were Grey Squirrels and Hornets. One box was used by a Little Owl and another by Kestrels, two boxes had broods of Mallard ducks!