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Higher Level Stewardship for Barn Owls
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The schemes emphasis is on the maintenance, restoration, and creation of habitats that will increase biodiversity whilst respecting the existing landscape. Applicants (or their agents) are paid to produce a Farm Environment Plan (FEP) - an audit and evaluation of all existing and potential environmental features. Successful applicants enter a 10-year agreement and receive six-monthly fixed-rate payments for each area (pounds per hectare, per metre, or per feature).
There are a wide variety of HLS options available that are of little or no benefit to Barn Owls. The Higher Level scheme does have certain options within which perfect Barn Owl habitat can be created (see below). However PLEASE NOTE that habitat quality depends upon the management regimes used in HLS and these are NOT predetermined (as they are in ELS). Unless Barn Owls are clearly identified as a target species it is almost certain that the HLS habitats created will NOT be ideal for them.
If you want to benefit Barn Owls you need to include options that help you to create really rough, thick, tussocky grass with a deep litter-layer, as this is where field voles (the Barn Owls' main prey) are most numerous. Grassland that lacks a deep litter layer is of much less benefit to Barn Owls - even if the grass is long.
Before deciding to encourage Barn Owls make sure the land is at least 1km from the nearest motorway, dual carriageway, or similar road. You can check the suitability of your locality via our online maps (follow the link to the page ‘Is your local landscape suitable?' >).
HLS options HK15, HK16, and HK17: Creation, maintenance and management of semi-improved or rough grassland for target species
Within these options it's possible to create really good Barn Owl habitat BUT THIS IS ONLY LIKELY TO HAPPEN IF BARN OWL IS SELECTED AS THE PRIMARY TARGET SPECIES. For example, the management of these areas can include grazing and/or haymaking, fertilizing and supplementary feeding - actions that are likely to prevent the grassland becoming perfect for Barn Owls. Remember, Barn Owls will benefit most from really rough, thick, tussocky grass with a deep litter-layer. Ask your Natural England advisor for a copy of the HK15/16/17 management prescriptions for Barn Owls. These were produced in consultation with the Barn Owl Trust.
HLS options HC15, HC16, and HC17: Maintenance, restoration and creation of successional areas and scrub
Although Barn Owls are not woodland birds, they will use areas of open grassy scrub. Areas allowed to vegetate naturally over a 5-year cycle are considered to be of secondary importance to Barn Owls. The more 'grassy' the better!
Adding extra Entry Level options to your Higher Level application
Within HLS you can add EL options (over and above those required to meet your points target) and you'll receive extra HLS payments for them. The options that will benefit Barn Owls most are those relating to Buffer Strips (rough grass field margins) and Field Corners. Under ELS they are numbered EE1/2/3 and EF1, EK1, and EL1. and under HLS the same options are simply numbered HE1/2/3 and HF1, HK1, and HL1. From the Barn Owls' point of view, adding these options to your HLS application is good because the required management regime is specified (e.g. rough grass must not be grazed, and cutting is restricted to once every five years).
Building restoration and Barn Owl nestboxes
Under HLS you may apply for a grant of 80% towards the cost of restoring historic farm buildings. This can be beneficial to Barn Owls but please note that only 48% of traditional farm buildings have a suitable nesting place. In most instances, whether or not buildings are restored, the erection of one or more Barn Owl nestboxes is an excellent idea.
Nestboxes in buildings are generally better than nestboxes in trees but not every farm building is suitable for Barn Owls to roost and nest in - even if nestboxes are erected. The success of your nestbox will depend to a large extent on where you put it, how you position it, and whether or not it's well designed. Please go to the page ‘Getting the best Barn Owl nestbox for your site' by following the link in the right-hand margin.
Under the Higher Level Stewardship, a grant payment of £28 can be claimed for each nestbox erected.
Full details of the scheme can be found in the Higher Level Stewardship Handbook, which can be downloaded via the link in the right-hand margin or obtained from Natural England Customer Service Units.
There's more information on this topic in the Barn Owl Conservation Handbook