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Tree Sparrow Villages and Barn Owl Abodes

Farmers and Warwickshire Wildlife Trust working in partnership to create new homes for declining bird species

Barn owls and tree sparrows have both suffered huge declines over the last 50 years due partly to agricultural intensification and also habitat loss. Warwickshire Wildlife Trust is trying to halt this decline by engaging with farmers, landowners, other organisations and local people. Through sharing of best practice, group learning and identifying how farmers can work together at a landscape scale, farming practices are being adapted to benefit wildlife, whilst maintaining productive farms.

In April 2018 the Trust established the Arden Farm Wildlife Network specifically with the aim of supporting local farmers to create bigger, better, more joined up areas that benefit wildlife. One of the network’s projects is to help the barn owl population here in Warwickshire. The farmers in the network are committing to managing their land more sympathetically for barn owls by providing the right habitat for their food and creating corridors in the landscape for them to travel. The Trust is providing new nest boxes in the Arden Farm Area so the barn owls have safe and secure homes.

Barns owls are site faithful and will stay in their home range for their whole lives so if we can provide nest boxes and look after the landscape to benefit their needs we will help to maintain their population in Warwickshire for future generations. Looking after our barn owls means that many other small creatures and plants benefit as well.

Warwickshire Wildlife Trust has also secured a grant for £17,380 from Severn Trent’s ‘Boost for Biodiversity Fund’ to support the delivery of an exciting new project to create ‘Tree sparrow villages’. These will be on 11 farms within the Arden Farm Wildlife Network. Tree sparrows are a rarer cousin of the house sparrow, which is more often encountered in our towns and cities. As tree sparrows nest in colonies they need nesting boxes in groups and enough food to support a number of birds. The Trust will be working with farmers to sow wildflower seed mixes on their farms. These flowers will provide pollen and nectar for insects and seeds, both a key part of a tree sparrows diet. The funds also support the provision of supplementary feed, similar people feeding birds in their garden – but on a much bigger scale! This will help provide enough food for the tree sparrows over the cold winter months when many otherwise struggle. The seed provided over the winter will also help a range of other farmland bird species, many of which are also in decline.

The funding provides a life line for tree sparrows in Warwickshire as their numbers have crashed over the last few decades. The project will create 11 hectares of new wild bird seed habitat and five hectares of pollen and nectar seed mix, so as well as tree sparrows a range of other species that are threatened in Warwickshire will benefit too. The farmers in the network are passionate about helping to conserve wildlife in the local area.

The Arden Farm Wildlife Network now covers nearly half the western side of Warwickshire with farms working together. For example neighbouring farms collaborate on creating rough grasslands to benefit voles which birds of prey need to eat, buffer strips for pollinators, or good river habitat for water voles. Through these actions so much more is gained compared to the fragmented approaches of the past.

There are now 30 members of the group ranging from small holdings up to large estates such as Ragley Hall (host of the Game Fair), Upton and Merevale Estates along with family farms and other landowners including the Heart of England Forest. Collectively the group farms nearly 9,000 hectares in Warwickshire.

The project is farmer-led so since the project start in April 2018 we’ve been consulting farmers to find out what they are interested in learning about. In 2018 we ran seven training events, covering a range of subjects including improve grass margins for wildlife and how to manage your farm more effectively for barn owls, including habitats, barn owl boxes and ecology. In 2019 nearly twenty training events are being planned and delivered.

In a post-Brexit world, farmers may be supported by the Government to help put nature into recovery through creating habitat and supporting biodiversity – so-called ‘public goods’. The way this project provides advice and shares ideas is proving a great way of making a big impact for wildlife recovery in Warwickshire.