In the 2011/12 academic year, before my final year of BSc Conservation Biology, I undertook a nine month placement at the Barn Owl Trust (BOT). I am passionate about bird conservation and have a particular enthusiasm for raptors and owls: the BOT was a good fit for me! The BOT is a charity, based in South Devon, whose aim is to conserve the barn owl, a bird which has suffered historical decline in the UK due mainly to the effects of agricultural intensification (see www.barnowltrust.org.uk).
As a result of a research project which I carried out during this placement, I have just recently had a peer reviewed short paper published in the British Birds journal. This work was on the distribution of barn owl nest sites in southwest England in relation to altitude. The research involved analysing a large dataset of nest sites dating back to 1980, measuring altitudes and collaborating with the Devon Biodiversity Records Centre and the Environmental Records Centre for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, who provided GIS services. For more information and to see the results of this research please see these Barn Owl Trust and British Birds articles.
In addition to undertaking an original research project, during my time as a voluntary Conservation Assistant I was involved in many other activities including the following:
- Dealing with barn owl conservation enquiries;
- Erecting barn owl nestboxes (in barns and on trees);
- Surveying sites for evidence of barn owls;
- Monitoring and ringing visits to occupied sites in the breeding season;
- Assisting with the recently published Barn Owl Conservation Handbook;
- Rehabilitation and release of wild casualties;
- Captive owl husbandry;
- Habitat management of the BOT’s private nature reserve; and
- Attending the BOT’s professional barn owl survey and mitigation courses
Work at the BOT comprised a mixture of office work and fieldwork (roughly 1 day a week out in the field on average) and I enjoyed working as part of a small conservation team. I really enjoyed undertaking a research project from start to finish, using the BOT’s extensive datasets. However, the best aspect of barn owl conservation has to be the fieldwork. It is impossible to explain in words how exciting it is to creep into a traditional farm building and search for evidence of barn owl occupancy (pellets, droppings, feathers etc.) or to check a nestbox for an active nest. I must add however that this work is only possible when working under a Natural England schedule 1 disturbance license!
I would highly recommend any students with a passion for bird conservation to contact the BOT about a future placement.