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Wildlife Tower (for Barn Owls and other wildlife)
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With suitable nest sites for Barn Owls in decline in the UK there is an ever-increasing need to provide these wonderful birds with long term nesting opportunities. The building described provides just that; not only for Barn Owls but homes also for bats, kestrels, little owls, sparrows, stock doves, invertebrates, amphibians and reptiles.
Old farm buildings support a vast array of different species (including plants, insects, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and birds) and there is no reason why small replica buildings cannot support a similar variety of wildlife. The building described, which was designed by the Barn Owl Trust, incorporates provision for Barn Owls, little owls, kestrels/stock doves, sparrows, reptiles and amphibians. In addition, it incorporates three separate chambers allowing a variety of bats to use the site for winter hibernation as well as breeding. Within only seven weeks of completion the building was naturally colonised by a little owl, hibernating butterflies, lacewings and other insects.
East Facing Wall
The Barn Owl entrance hole is 3.5 m above ground level and leads into a generous deep nestbox. To maximise chances of occupation the hole overlooks open ground and is therefore highly visible to any passing owl. In addition, areas of rough tussocky grassland are provided for owls to hunt over.
West Facing Wall
Kestrels prefer a shallow open-fronted nest cavity (just under the apex in the picture opposite). Directly below the kestrel nest is a small hole leading to a small, deep nestbox for little owls to use.
A perch is provided just below and in front of each owl hole. This, plus the generous roof overhang, makes the site safer for emerging fledgling owls.
South Facing Wall
On the warmer south-facing wall there are numerous other cavities in the mortar to suit a range of invertebrates (spiders, wasps, etc).
All Four Walls
On all four sides, the building has a variety of sparrow-sized openings for hole nesting bird species. Stone piles were left at the foot of the refuge to provide a habitat for amphibians and reptiles.
The lower half of the building is a hibernation area for bats, designed to be permanently dark, cool and damp with a simple earth floor. A variety of bat species can access this through a wide horizontal slot situated just below the level of an internal floor, which separates the top half of the building from the hibernation area. A second bat hibernation space is accessed through a smaller horizontal slot at the top of the north-facing wall. Breeding bats need a much warmer cavity so the third area for bats (the bat nursery) is situated behind the top of the south-facing wall. This extends right up to the roof tiles and has its entrance hole at the bottom thus trapping warm air (see below - centre of picture).
In order to be long lasting the building should have a concrete foundation (with bare earth in the centre) and stone walls. Concrete blocks, reclaimed bricks, and natural stone can all be used; however natural stone is preferred as it usually blends in better and affords more opportunities for wildlife to colonise the walls. The more cavities that can be incorporated the better.
The building described here was constructed from limestone with a breezeblock and wood inner structure and a pitched slate roof. The Barn Owl Trust hopes to publish plans for the building as shown but in the meantime here is series of pictures showing the construction method. The exact dimensions of the various holes and nestboxes maybe obtained from Barn Owl Trust, British Trust for Ornithology, and Mammal Society publications.
History and Acknowledgements
As far as we know, the first stone building made specifically for Barn Owls was built in East Devon in 1991. The second, built in Lincolnshire in 1998, was designed by Bob Sheppard and Garry Steele and the Barn Owl Trust acknowledges their helpful comments (thanks guys!). The building shown here (the first to incorporate provision for a really wide variety of species) was designed by the Barn Owl Trust and stimulated by the making of Wild Thing I Love You, a programme made by RDF Media for Channel 4 Television.
Several companies assited by providing materials or services free of charge including Andrzej Blonski Architects a London-based company who produced drawings for the planning application using Barn Owl Trust sketches and dimensions. Thank you!
14 months after the Wildlife Tower was finished we were delighted to find that a pair of wild Barn Owls had moved in! There were 82 pellets in the nestbox showing that they were really well established. We then discovered Little Owl pellets and feathers, and Kestrel pellets in their respective boxes too!
In 2010, Barn Owls bred and succesfully fledged 2 young from the Barn Owl provision in the Wildlife Tower. On the other side of the tower, a pair of Kestrels also bred and apparently fledged 3 or 4 young from their purpose-built provision!
The Barn Owl Trust has now built its own Wildlife Tower in memory of our dear friend John Woodland. Fully detailed plans, which are suitable for planning applications, are now available by post or email for a suggested donation of at least £50. See our slideshow on YouTube of the building process.
There is more information on wildlife towers in the Barn Owl Conservation Handbook