OPERATION BIRD BOX
The British Association for Shooting and Conservation has been busy with various wildlife projects involving youngsters building and strategically placing bird boxes across game and clay shoots throughout the region, writes Duncan Thomas, Director of BASC North
During Covid lockdown the shooting community has been busy with lots of C19-compliant conservation and wildlife projects putting back an immense amount of time and effort into this amazing area. Most of these projects don’t just enhance the environment we share, and the species concerned, but also provide educational opportunities for many youngsters. With the challenges of lockdown the opportunities to get out and into some fresh air have become very precious.
Our Bird Box Project, generously kick-started by a gamekeepers’ luncheon donation at Northcote a few years ago, goes from strength to strength, managed by our leading Youngshot’s Ambassador Lewis Bretherton. Youngsters have built countless bird boxes and placed them across game and clay shoots across the North of England, many of the boxes were fitted with cameras and some batches even achieved a 90 per cent usage rate, which is commendable!
At the start of lockdown BBC Look North ran a feature on our volunteers making excellent use of their time making and placing bird boxes in sensitive areas.
If you pardon the pun, we’ve ‘branched out’ and this year have constructed loads of boxes for not just songbirds but barn owls, tawny owls plus kestrels.
Our duck tubes have also proved very popular – they are designed to prevent access from mink and rats, boosting the survival rate of the mallard ducklings. Many of the tubes will host multiple nesting attempts, it’s amazing how the duck finds the entrance, but they soon learn! They are remarkably snug inside with a hay lining and nest.
Up in Esthwaite, Cumbria, Mike Thornley’s Osprey Project has involved the creation of artificial nest platforms high up in the tree canopy, one is even made from an old bread box. This year, hopefully we will have fledged record numbers and again, cameras have recorded them fledging and setting off on the long journey to Africa. Fingers crossed they return in a few years to join their parents and breed! One of last year’s males decided, somewhat unwisely, to stop off en-route back home, at the Tickled Trout at Preston using the bridge as his roost. This didn’t end well and shows the value of providing safe breeding venues to maximise fledging success.
Over in the East, Gareth Dockerty has teamed up with the gamekeepers again this year and is coordinating and planning another amazing year of #LetsLearnMoor. The staggering statistics include 1400 primary school children and their teachers, from over 50 schools, visiting seven different upland locations with over 30 partner agencies involved. This project started with funding via the ‘recovered criminal cash’ fund from North Yorkshire Police and has evolved to be supported by a full range of partners and BASC legacy money. The sight of these youngsters enjoying a full action-packed day of activities and learning all about upland grouse moor management is immensely satisfying.
Closer to home, the grouse moors of Bowland should be looking stunning this time of year, but yet again heather beetle is threatening to take its toll in many areas. The beetle’s larvae ‘ring bark’ the stem of the heather killing the plant, its only real predator being a very small species of wasp. Many moors are under a number of projects to try and re-wet by blocking gullies and slowing the run-off of water in times of high rainfall.
Fingers crossed for a good grouse year – some moors will shoot a sustainable surplus but many will not, opting to leave the grouse for another year. This is the rub, the same amount of money and effort is invested into the moors, whether they shoot or not, commendable levels of investment supporting isolated rural communities.
So, it’s with a real sense of optimism, with light at the end of the tunnel we come out of this terrible year. Nature certainly doesn’t stop for anything and we can be proud we made excellent use of our time supporting our amazing wildlife in the Ribble catchment and beyond.