Barn Owls

Mayfield Market Towns would damage national Barn Owl recovery network.

The peer responsible for the Government’s planning reforms wants to build a Sussex new town on countryside of ‘National Importance’ to Barn Owls – contrary to the guidelines set out in his own legislation.

Mayfield Market Towns wants to build 10,000 homes around Wineham and Twineham, on countryside straddling the River Adur Corridor. However, Colin Shawyer*, former Director of the Hawk and Owl Trust and Founder and Coordinator of the UK’s Barn Owl Conservation Network, says the area plays a vital part in a national Species Recovery Network.

“These established barn owl recovery networks are important not only locally,” he says “but also regionally and nationally because they form part of a UK wide conservation plan to restore the fragile Barn Owl population. It is important to see these networks as links in a much wider chain. Barn Owls are very sedentary birds so they do not fly very far to new sites. In fact they won’t leave their home ranges – they will just not breed within them. Then, as the habitats and the connectivity of these habitats are degraded, eventually the population dies out.”

Dr Barrie Watson goes to the box very quietly and puts a net over the entrance to catch any adult bird which flies out.  This can be ringed or an existing ring number recorded, and after any young have been ringed and measured Dr Watson puts the adult back last, block the hole for a few minutes, then removes the stopper and creeps away. The adult will stay in the box.

Dr Barrie Watson goes to the box very quietly and puts a net over the entrance to catch any adult bird which flies out. This can be ringed or an existing ring number recorded, and after any young have been ringed and measured Dr Watson puts the adult back last, block the hole for a few minutes, then removes the stopper and creeps away. The adult will stay in the box.

One of Mayfield Market Town’s Directors, Lord Matthew Taylor, was responsible for reviewing the Government’s National Policy Planning Framework (NPPF) two years ago. These guidelines advise planners to ‘identify and map components of local ecological networks,’ and ‘promote the preservation, restoration and re-creation of priority habitats’ to protect vulnerable species like the Barn Owl.

A larger chick in Dr Watson’s hand.  The "stopper" is in the entrance hole. This is all done under special Schedule 1 licence from Natural England, which Dr Watson has to carry with him and produce to a police officer on demand.

A larger chick in Dr Watson’s hand. The “stopper” is in the entrance hole. This is all done under special Schedule 1 licence from Natural England, which Dr Watson has to carry with him and produce to a police officer on demand.

The Barn Owl is a Schedule 1 protected species and, due to its fragile population, has been closely monitored for many years. Figures compiled for the Sussex Ornithological Society show that more than 10% of West Sussex’s Barn Owls depend on this area. And according to Mr Shawyer, the loss of habitat here would also affect many more breeding pairs of owls further along the river network.

“You can’t integrate Barn Owls into development schemes however much green space you put in,” he says. “You can try and recreate it, but it doesn’t work because in order to have a good viable Barn Owl population you need habitat stretching over long stretches of river – you can’t fragment these habitat networks with housing developments. Barn Owls will no longer survive in those areas. If an area of houses encroaches onto the River Adur corridor and new roads encroach to within about one and a half km either side then you are not going to hold that population steady.”

But Lord Taylor’s fellow Mayfield Director, Peter Freeman has confirmed that Mayfield Market Towns is pressing on with its plans.

“We are now embarking on the formal planning application process, which will involve more detailed work on many aspects including ecology and flooding,” he says. “The work that our consultants have carried out to date leaves us with little doubt that there are no show stoppers.”

barn-owl-group

Three Barn Owls (Photo: Roger Wilmshurst)

The owls in this area have been monitored for many years by Dr Barrie Watson who is a Vice-President of the Sussex Ornithological Society and County Adviser to the Barn Owl Conservation Network. He holds a licence to ring them and checks the boxes each year to count and weigh the young to see how the population is progressing.

“The numbers of pairs breeding may vary from year to year according to the food supply,” he says. “We monitor the nest boxes at the large young stage, when it is very safe to disturb them. We have a lot of boxes in barns as well as on trees. This is a brilliant habitat for Barn Owls. It is nicely away from the main road, it has plenty of low lying fields, and the eastern arm of the River Adur Valley has lots of rough banks and grassy margins for voles and mice, which provide food for the owls.

“The numbers of Barn Owls went down catastrophically from the 1930s – probably with the intensification of agriculture. The fields tended to be cultivated right up to the barbed wire fence instead of having a grassy headland at the end and the modern barns aren’t quite so friendly for owls – they don’t have the dark nooks and crannies for them to nest.

“We devised a species action plan for West Sussex, setting out things we would like to see to improve the population. We’ve put up a lot of nest boxes on trees and in agricultural buildings and farmers have been paid to leave grassy margins. I’m appalled to hear about this development plan; I have lived in Sussex all my life and was brought up in a rural area. I think we need nature and open spaces – I want some countryside left please.”

Development would absolutely destroy all the work we’ve done

Michael Nailard is Chairman of the Hurstpierpoint Flora and Fauna Group which has put up a number of Barn Owl boxes in the countryside nearby.

“Development would absolutely destroy all the work we’ve done,” he says. “Owls and bats need wide open spaces to survive. Without the countryside you won’t get these species surviving – they’ll be gone and our children will never know them.

barn-owl-habitat-wineham

This is a brilliant habitat for Barn Owls. It is nicely away from the main road, it has plenty of low lying fields, and the eastern arm of the River Adur Valley has lots of rough banks and grassy margins for voles and mice, which provide food for the owls.

“It makes me very cross. A pocket nature reserve or a wildlife corridor is no substitute for open countryside and I try to impress that on all the council officials and developers that I talk to. But they don’t seem interested – ecology is at the bottom of their list of priorities I’m afraid.”

*Colin Shawyer is also a professional ecologist whose paper Barn Owl Survey Methodology and Techniques for use in Ecological Assessment is used by ecologists as’ best practice’ to advise LPAs and Government on the potential impacts of development schemes in the UK.

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Lord Matthew Taylor’s wife, Vicky Garner is a Specialist Environmental Consultant who obviously cares deeply about the environment: Taylor & Garner Ltd

Surely she can’t be aware of the terrible ecological impact Mayfield Market Towns’ proposals would have on the area they have chosen.

You can contact Vicky Garner and Matthew Taylor on this link: Email Taylor & Garner Ltd

2 Responses to Mayfield Market Towns would damage national Barn Owl recovery network.

  1. Barbara Duggan 30th April 2014 at 4:51 pm #

    It is not only the barn owls and bats, it is the whole ecology of the area. Trees plants and flowers for many insects which in turn feed the bats; habitats with flowers for wild and bumble bees not to mention the many aquatic life forms in the ponds and the river – dragonflies for one example. Our small birds are already in danger from predators which includes domestic and feral cats, crows, magpies, jays and grey squirrels. More housing more light pollution less bats and owls!
    Does Mayfield not know that the Adur takes the effluent from Godards Green sewage works and the recycle unit at Wineham; so making a lake or two will hold back the effluent from these units.

  2. Ken Murray 2nd June 2014 at 8:40 pm #

    i have fished and photographed wildlife in this area for forty years. These proposals would absolutely devastate the ecology of this area.. We must stop this madness. There must be sensible alternatives. It would be heartbreaking not being able to watch the Barn Owls hunting towards dusk along the banks of the Eastern Adur.

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