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Barnstorming success for Lake District owls

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owl in flight

A Forestry Commission project to help barn owls in Cumbria’s Grizedale Forest and the Rusland Valley, between Coniston and Newby Bridge, has been hailed as a success, after a reported increase in the number of birds nesting in the area.

This year there have been six actively occupied nest boxes around Grizedale Forest, but previously there had been no more than two boxes occupied in any of the last 15 years.

Barn owls are a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act and have been in decline in Britain in the last 15 years due to increased use of pesticides and a reduction in the number of derelict buildings.

The project is a joint venture between the Forestry Commission and the World Owl Trust at Muncaster Castle, and funded by the Tourism and Conservation Partnership. 

The project was launched to identify suitable new habitat for the barn owls, followed by the installation of new nest boxes for them to breed in.

Monitoring owl numbers can be a useful tool in helping the Forestry Commission pick up on potential threats to different species at the earliest possible stage, and gives forest managers time to respond to their needs effectively.  This can include setting of exclusion zones which help to avoid unnecessary disturbance to the owls from people and predators.

Iain Yoxall, Wildlife Ranger at Grizedale, says:

“To see such an upturn in the number of nesting barn owls since we launched the conservation project is great news.

“Numbers of nesting owls in the area have been stable for a long period of time, so to suddenly see them jump is a great reward for the people who have dedicated time and effort to the project.”

The monitoring of the new breeding sites is expected to offer the barn owls additional protection which they have not previously had.

The World Owl Trust is also planning an education day in The Yan Building at the Grizedale Forest Visitor Centre in January 2010 for two local schools, Hawkshead Primary and Levens Valley Primary.  The children will be visiting Grizedale to learn all about the barn owls and the project in their local area.

Hilary Lange, UK Conservation Officer for the World Owl Trust, says:

“The Education Day at Grizedale has been designed to get local children excited barn owls and learn more about them, particularly in their local area.

“We also hope to generate further interest in the project from local land owners who would be willing to manage their land sympathetically for barn owls by putting up a box and providing a secure nest site”.

Barn owls tend to mate for life. The female will lay her eggs in April or May, which hatch after about 33 days, with the chicks able to fly after 9 to 12 weeks. The owls sometimes breed twice a year.

For more information on the World Owl Trust, visit

For more information on the work of the forestry commission in North West England, visit  


1.  Images of barn owls are available by calling 01524-782086.

2.  Grizedale Visitor Centre and Forest Park is bordered by Lake Windermere to the east and Coniston Water to the west. The nearest centres are Hawkshead and Ambleside. 

3.  The Forestry Commission is the largest provider of countryside recreation in Britain with responsibility for over one million hectares (2.4 million acres) of forest, woodlands and open countryside. The North West England Forest District covers the Lake District in Cumbria, the Forest of Bowland in Lancashire, Merseyside, Greater Manchester and Cheshire. The forests today are managed for conservation, wildlife, landscape and recreation as well as providing a valuable source of timber.

4.  The WORLD OWL TRUST, a registered charity, is the world’s premier owl conservation organisation and promotes scientific research, habitat creation and restoration, a UK national nest-box scheme, together with breeding programmes. The Trust has, for over 30 years, given unstinting effort to ensure that endangered owls the world over survive into the next millennium for future generations to enjoy.

The WORLD OWL TRUST is also one of the UK’s leading wildlife rehabilitation units where many species of injured birds and other animals are received and cared for until they are well enough to return to the wild.  This service is provided free of charge.   For more information visit:


Iain Yoxall (Wildlife Ranger) on 01229-862014, or email

Mike Thornley (Wildlife Ranger) on 01229-860373, or email

Sue Gardiner on 01229-862002, or email