An Environment Agency partnership project is proving hugely successful in increasing barn owl numbers on Yorkshire rivers.
Working in partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Partnership the project has so far involved putting 44 nest boxes on poles and cutting the amount of mowing on river banks to improve the habitat for the small mammals that owls prey on. The scheme was initially started in the county during the 1990s in habitats alongside the River Hull, Humber and West Beck.
The existing project in East Yorkshire has produced 310 owlets since 2000, an average of about three per box, and this year will be extended onto the lower River Don and Aire, tying in with schemes supported by the Crown Estates and Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

In the coming month 16 boxes will be installed on the banks of the Don and Aire to form a new link in the Environment Agency riverside habitat chain for barn owls, joining existing projects in East Yorkshire and the river Trent in the south.

Eleanor Andison of the Environment Agency said: “We hope that some nest boxes may be used for breeding this coming season but certainly next year there should be some owl chicks raised.

“The project is only possible with the enthusiasm of the landowners and their support is invaluable in its success.  The boxes are generally placed on the river corridors in pairs about two km apart, and there are still a few gaps in this area which we are hoping to fill.

“We will continue to manage, and also to encourage others to manage, the becks and rivers to allow the barn owls food source of small mammals to thrive. An additional benefit to managing the becks in this way is that another threatened animal, the water vole, can expand its range.”

The East Yorkshire Barn Owl Project began in 1992, motivated by the alarming results of a national survey showing a huge fall in barn owl numbers across the UK – 69% since 1930s. The project is part of Operation Riverside Link, a national Environment Agency project aimed at restoring barn owl populations. Operation Riverside Link has successful projects in seven out of the eight Environment Agency Regions, with almost three quarters of all boxes being used by barn owls.