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A vole lot of work for hungry kestrels

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A common kestrel

Barnsley’s love affair with the kestrel is set to continue as forest chiefs bid to recruit the bird of prey to help a young woodland flourish.

The iconic film Kes was shot in the South Yorkshire town in the 1960s and told of one schoolboy’s fascination with the creature against a gritty industrial backdrop.

Now work to expand ancient Wombwell Wood is looking to benefit from the bird's hunting instincts.

The Forestry Commission is erecting seven so called eco-perches – similar to telephone poles - in the Upper Woodhead part of the beauty spot, where 90,000 young trees are taking root on a 147 acre former agricultural and open cast site as part of a big project to expand habitats.

However, predation by voles is damaging some of the saplings, so encouraging more birds of prey like kestrels by providing them with a vantage point to scan for prey is a way of restoring the balance.

The work will be done as part of a public Conservation Day in the woods on Sunday 10 October. People of all ages are invited to join the free event and help care for the environment.  Special kestrel nesting boxes will also be erected and other forest tasks undertaken.  To join the event which runs from 10am to 2pm call 01302 820278.   Helen Walton, Forester for South Yorkshire, said:

“This is a really good way of helping the young woodland, while improving the prospects for birds like kestrels.  Despite the fact that the species is frequently spotted because it hunts on roadside verges, numbers seem to be declining according to reports so it’s not as common as people might think.”

Although the old part of Wombwell Wood dates back hundreds of years with plenty of gnarled old trees, there are few natural perches in the adjoining young woodland.  Yet it’s in these areas where the vole population is often at its greatest.  The diminutive creature is an important food for many birds and this year has seen a big increase in numbers as snow cover during the last winter offered a respite from high levels of predation.  

Notes to Editor

The Upper Woodhead scheme was undertaken by the Forestry Commission and South Yorkshire Forest Partnership, with funding from Objective 1 and Yorkshire Forward.  The expanded Wombwell Wood now covers 145-hectares (362-acres) of rolling countryside. Woods are defined as `ancient’ if they appear on the earliest reliable maps, which date to around the 1600s in England. Such woods are amongst the most valuable habitats in the country for animals and flora.  Open cast operations were carried out at Upper Woodhead until 2005 by mining firm HJ Banks Ltd.  As part of a far-sighted agreement which also saw the Forestry Commission acquire Wombwell Woods, the land was restored to community woodland, complete with areas of grassland and wild flowers.  Creating publicly accessible woods in urban areas and nurturing havens for wildlife are key aims highlighted in the Forest Strategy for Yorkshire and the Humber.

Forestry Commission England is the government department responsible for protecting, expanding and promoting the sustainable management of woods and forests and increasing their value to society and the environment. Forestry makes a real contribution to sustainable development, providing social and environmental benefits arising from planting and managing attractive, as well as productive woodlands. Visit

Media calls to Richard Darn on 01226 246351.  Mobile: 0775 367 0038.