Down Ampney Farm all of a flutter after arrival of feathered friends
The Co-operative farm at Down Ampney, Gloucestershire, is all of a flutter after the arrival of a pair of feathered friends.
A pair of Little Owls, which are declining in the UK, have been spotted on the 4,000 acre estate, near Cirencester, nesting in a small tree-mounted nesting box.
In May this year, The Co-operative Farms, Britain’s largest farmer, launched a major wildlife initiative by setting up a team of “Habitat Heroes” to help preserve and protect some of the UK’s most iconic species at six farms that it owns.
As part of Habitat Heroes, a lifeline was given to Barn Owls at Down Ampney, when the farmer worked with The Barn Owl Centre, Gloucestershire, to create three super-sized nesting boxes, nicknamed "Barn Owl Manors" - the first of their kind - that stand on six-foot high stilts on the farm.
However, the pair of Little Owls appear to have beaten the Barn Owls to it and have made a home for themselves in a small tree-mounted nesting box. They were first spotted by primary school pupils attending a From Farm to Fork visit – the award-winning outdoor learning experience that takes place at Down Ampney and five other farms, which are owned or managed by The Co-operative Farms.
Lucy Ashcroft, who is project leader for the From Farm to Fork visits to the Down Ampney estate, said: “It was very exciting to see the Little Owls flying around the estate and then making their way to the tree-mounted owl box, especially for the youngsters visiting the farm who saw them.
“This is the first time Little Owls have been spotted on the farm and it looks like they could be here to stay, so hopefully they’ll make it their home and maybe next year we’ll see some chicks. All we need now is some Barn Owls to nest as well.”
Little Owls (Athene Noctua) were introduced into the UK in the 19th century and can be seen all year round and in daylight. They nest in hollow cavities and can lay clutches of up to six eggs. They eat small mammals and birds, beetles and worms, and occasionally plant material and berries.
According to findings from the Breeding Bird Survey, data suggests that Little Owl numbers are declining, with the UK population estimated to be down by 24 per cent between 1995 and 2008.
Vincent Jones, from The Barn Owl Centre of Gloucestershire, added: “This is really great news. Little Owls are in decline and many would have struggled to survive during the harsh weather conditions last winter, when those that couldn’t find food within a couple of days would have perished.
“But if these Little Owls make themselves at home in the box and nest and breed, there is every chance we could have chicks next year. Little Owls often return to the same nest, so fingers crossed they keep coming back every year to lay their eggs and hopefully that will enhance their chances of survival, and also help boost the local population.”
The Co-operative farm in Down Ampney grows rapeseed, honey and wheat, as well as vines, which were recently planted to produce English wine that will eventually be sold in Co-operative Food stores.
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