WILDLIFE experts are hoping that there will be a gradual increase in the number of barn owls in East Staffordshire after the discovery of a nest at an estate in the area.
The Staffordshire Barn Owl Action Group found four chicks nesting in a box at the Duchy of Lancaster estate in Tutbury. They have been found four years after a disused barn underwent a £900,000 conversion to turn it into residential buildings. The group found that barn owls had previously been nesting and rearing their chicks in the barn before work began in 2010.
In 2001 it was noted that there were only 30 barn owls on record in Staffordshire and in 2008 a donation was given to the group by the Duchy of Lancaster for the installation of six nesting boxes to try and combat the falling number of barn owls in the region. The group is also hoping to maximise the opportunities for barn owls throughout the county by creating the right habitat of rough grassland which is rich in small mammals for them to feed on. It is also looking to provide further nesting boxes where chicks can be raised.
The Staffordshire Barn Owl Action Group is continually working alongside the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust to try and make sure the birds have plenty of suitable places to nest across the county. It has installed over 400 nesting boxes in the region since 2003. The group's coordinator, Helen Cottam, said: "The poor weather in the spring of 2013 was disastrous for the barn owl population and was largely responsible for the decline in the number of owls in Staffordshire. However, this finding represents some positive news early in the breeding season and we hope this bears the sign of more good news to follow throughout the season."
Nathan Thompson, chief executive of the Duchy of Lancaster, said it is committed to both promoting the countryside and supporting the surrounding the wildlife and its natural habits including nesting areas for barn owls.
He said: "It is thought there are less than 1,000 pairs of barn owls nesting in the UK so it's great to see them returning to rear their chicks. The estate provides the perfect habitat for barn owls due to the proximity to the National Forest and abundance of rough grassland and small mammals which owls rely on."