Nest box schemes to aid Barn Owl and Tree Sparrow
2002 saw the first of two nest box schemes to help encourage and attract both the Barn Owl back to the area and allow another rare breeding species (the Tree Sparrow) to chance to increase with the aid of artificial nest boxes.

The absence of the Barn Owl here, came as a surprise to the many birdwatchers who visited the area to listen for the large numbers of Quail during the Summer of 2001. Despite being locally common throughout Nottinghamshire, Barn Owls are doubtless under-recorded due to their nocturnal behaviour, so it is perhaps strange that occurrences here are so rare and entirely limited to non-breeding birds. This downturn in fortunes is widespread and not restricted to Eakring or Nottinghamshire as a whole.

Such fortunes have also greatly affected the Tree Sparrow. Breeding Tree Sparrows have never numbered no more than three pairs in yearly breeding surveys conducted since 1998, with many former tree-hole nest sites disappearing annually due to strong Autumnal gales. There are however, recent signs suggesting that the Tree Sparrow is making a comeback here, but not yet as a breeding bird.

The area currently has just two regular Tree Sparrow breeding sites, at Tug Bridge Farm and near Eakring Flash. It is possible that others exist elsewhere as regular birds are now being noted from the Red Hill area, though probable breeding takes place outside the recording boundaries. 2002 also encouragingly saw an unsuccessful nesting attempt by another pair at a new site.

Recent counts of wintering individuals reached a highest ever 30+ birds at the end of 2002. These birds were favouring an area of first year set-aside, resulting from an uncultivated and (perhaps more importantly) unsprayed cereal crop along the Kneesall Road.

Associating with higher than normal numbers of both Chaffinch and Yellowhammer, the Tree Sparrow flock could be quite mobile and often moved further east to feed in more set-aside near Kersall, but again associating with the same two species.

With the increased implementation of set-aside strip schemes, the potential for attracting larger numbers of overwintering Tree Sparrows (along with other birds) looks much more plausable than that of a few years ago. Part of the land rented from farms in the Kersall/Hare Hill Wood area by the Kingston Estate is now enveloped by such schemes and with the Stewardship Scheme looking set to be introduced around fields adjacent to Eakring Flash, these are probably two of the most suitable areas for the siting of Tree Sparrow nest boxes.

Carl Cornish (the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust's Sherwood and Trent Conservation Officer) is the person responsible for the planning and instigation of the nest box scheme. He already runs a similar scheme near Newark and as Winter feeding is an important factor for attracting Tree Sparrows, he supplementary feeds them through the colder months.

Once formerly numbering seven pairs in the Eakring village area alone, the Barn Owl is now currently reduced to the status of occasional visitor. The only regular site for Barn Owl since 1998, was on the northern-edge of the recording area but failed to produce a single record last year. Whether the individual(s) concerned were killed by cars is unknown, but like many Barn Owls, habitat and nest site reduction/destruction meant that they were restricted to hunting available roadside verges and ditches. All of the former nest sites (except two) were in dead trees and their felling and gradual deteriation, meant that pairs were forced to leave the area.

Since my coverage of the area began, I have personally only ever recorded one sighting of Barn Owl (of the above mentioned individual in 2001) which was seen by other people on subsequent occasions. This comes despite spending literally hundreds of hours in the area during the hours of darkness, both moth trapping and listening for Barn Owls and other nocturnal species. Over the years though, I have had several Barn Owl reports from Eakring village by local residents. The most recent being of one being disturbed from it's garage roost in late 2001/possibly early 2002. This unfortunately was the only recent sighting.

Other individuals have been recorded most years during the intervening period, with most relating to individuals predominantly centred in the Pastures area and along the northern edge of Eakring village.

The current plan for Barn Owl boxes, is to erect just one in the area at a site recently surveyed for the purpose. One potential problem however, is that Barn Owls require a large foraging area of c35 hectares or 6 km of linear habitat (rough field margins, ditch banks, river banks etc) There are possibilities for other sites to be used in the future and I have been contacted about proposing such sites.