Bowland Beth: An Interview with David Cobham

Bowland Beth dramatises the short life of an English hen harrier between 2011 and 2012 and immerses the reader in the day-to-day regimen of her life. Interweaved with her story is the larger tale of the species plight for survival under the constant threat of persecution. In this article our book specialist, Nigel Jones, talks to the author, David Cobham, about the plight of the hen harrier and his hopes for the future of this glorious bird.


David Cobham
The Author of Bowland Beth, David Cobham.

There are numerous organisations and NGOs in the book who want the same outcome for the hen harrier, but who seem to be in conflict as to how to achieve their aims. What strategy do you think would enable all these groups to speak with one voice; do you think this would help when confronting powerful lobby groups such as the landowners and their connections in government?

The problem lies in some organisations wanting an outright ban on driven grouse shooting. That is not going to happen as has already been demonstrated. What we all have to work for is a system of licensing driven grouse moor shooting. Controlled by DEFRA a driven grouse moor would be licensed to operate and granted the subsidies that are substantial.  If a case of illegal killing was proven in court the license for driven grouse shooting would be revoked for 3 years. I believe this would get a majority backing.

The hen harrier in your book is named Beth. I encounter some people who disapprove of naming animals, they claim this is anthropomorphism and inappropriate to conservation.  What would you say to those people?

Mark Avery in his review of my book saw exactly what I was trying to do. Ring numbers or tag numbers are impersonal. By giving them names it makes us feel closer to the birds. The news that Bowland Beth has died is much more heart wrenching than that 834759 has died.

Sadly, I have never seen a hen harrier. Your description of them is written with such a passion akin to awe that I am now determined to see one of these birds for myself. What chance does an everyday person like myself have of seeing a hen harrier in the wild?

A survey last year reported that there were 4 breeding pairs of hen harriers in England – none of them on grouse moors. The best time to see hen harriers is in the winter when there is a considerable influx of hen harriers from the Scandinavian countries. They pitch up from October on the east of England and can be seen as they come into roost in reed beds on the coast or in damp areas with shelter from silver birches inland. They return north to breed in mid-March.

The landowners say they need to make an income from the moors, and driven grouse shooting is the only way they can do this. They will put the case for local employment and, like the debate around foxhunting, accuse opponents of not understanding ‘the countryside.’ Do you think a ban on driven grouse shooting is the only way to force the landowners hand, or do you think working alongside landowners to assist with techniques such as brood management and diversionary feeding is the best way to proceed?

Brood management is just one of six measures in DEFRA’s save the hen harrier project. It is a concession to the grouse moor owners. This is how it will work. First, when a nest is found on a grouse moor, diversionary feeding must be tried. This involves feeding day old chicks during the six week period when hen harriers take grouse chicks. They are placed on a plank supported by trestles about 30 metres from the nest. Trials at Langholm showed that this method reduces chick predation by 86%. If another hen harrier nests within 10 km of the original nest then brood management comes into play. The clutch of eggs is removed and hatched in an incubator. They are taught to feed. When they can feed themselves they are placed in an aviary out on the moor. Monitored by experts they will be given a “soft” release and continue to be fed until they are self sustaining.

If the trial is shown to fail due to illegal killing it will cease immediately.

I’m quite cynical about this. I think a lot gamekeepers won’t allow a hen harrier to nest on their moor and furthermore there are not enough hen harriers breeding on grouse moors in England to justify this procedure.

There are some conservationists that advocate adopting a more laissez-faire approach to extinction, moving priorities to bio-abundance rather than biodiversity and accepting that extinction and invasive species are part of the evolutionary process. What are your thought regarding this way of thinking?

I quote directly from my book. An extract from The Diversity of Life by Professor Edward O. Wilson: “We should not knowingly allow any species or race to go extinct. There can be no purpose more enspiriting than to begin the ages of restoration, reweaving the wondrous diversity of life that still surrounds us”. The hen harrier was extinct as a breeding bird in England in 2013. Its fate lies in our hands now.

Despite the hen harrier being a totem and emblematic of a battle between conservationists and those wishing to preserve a ‘rural way of life;’ a quick straw-poll I conducted indicated little knowledge of the bird. However, with more knowledge, I believe the majority would care about the hen harrier. How can the plight of the hen harrier compete in a media blizzard of often superficial and meaningless content?

When Bowland Beth was shot we believe she had just found a mate. Her femur was fractured, six of her tail feathers cut through and her femoral artery nicked. She picked herself up and flew unsteadily off, streaming blood behind her. Her vision blurred and she crashed into heather. Don’t tell me that birds don’t feel pain. She must have been in exquisite pain. I know about pain. I broke my femur last October, and lay there for six hours before I was found. That is the bond I have with Bowland Beth.

Do you believe satellite tagging is a good way to monitor hen harriers, and if so why?

Illegal killing of hen harriers continues. There is an arms race – sophisticated satellite tagging versus state of the art weaponry. Since 2007 36 hen harriers satellite tagged by Natural England have “disappeared”. Bowland Beth was one of them. The Hawk and Owl Trust satellite tagged two hen harriers last year. The male, Rowan, was shot last October in the north of England. His leg was smashed and he was able to fly some distance before collapsing in the heather. Sorrel, a female, is alive and well and flourishing in Scotland.

Protecting the hen harrier requires dedication, passion and commitment to the cause of conservation, often from volunteers working long hours in all weathers. What would you say to inspire a future generation of conservationist to take up the baton?

To watch a young hen harrier successfully fledge from her nest and set out into the unknown is the start of a Great Adventure. Sharing this knowledge with other weary volunteers who have probably not seen anything all day re-invigorates them, gives them the impetus to go out again and search for that elusive V-shaped image of a hen harrier, searching up and down, for its favourite prey, short-tailed field voles.


Bowland Beth: The Life of an English Hen Harrier, written by David Cobham and illustrated by Dan Powell, is published by William Collins and is available in hardback.

 

Great British Beach Clean 2017

2014 Great British Beach Clean - Port of Dover
The Great British Beach Clean, organised by the Marine Conservation Society, takes places each year in September. (2014 Beach Clean by Port of Dover is licensed under CC BY 2.0).

The Great British Beach Clean, organised by the Marine Conservation Society and sponsored by Waitrose, takes place every year in September and is part of the larger Beachwatch programme of events which run throughout the year. The GBBC incorporates both the Great Channel Islands Beach Clean and the Great Northern Irish Beach Clean and this year it runs from 15th – 18th September.

This four day event consists of a huge number of organised clean-ups which will take place all around the UK, Northern Ireland and the Channel Isles. During these events, teams of volunteers work to collect litter from 100 metre long sections of beach, recording the number and types of items found as they go. Any litter which is branded with a company logo is also recorded, as well as items which obviously originate from other countries.

The data collected during these events is collated by the Marine Conservation Society in an annual report. This information is used to raise awareness of the issue and to create campaigns and lobby companies to tackle the litter problem at the source. The data also feeds into the International Coastal Cleanup and is shared with other organisations and academics who are studying the problem of coastal pollution.

Want to get involved? Visit the Marine Conservation Society website to search for an event near you and sign up as a volunteer. If you can’t find any events near to where you live, then why not organise one yourself? Full step-by-step guides are available for both organisers and volunteers.

Follow the Marine Conservation Society on Twitter or visit their Facebook page.


Bestselling Beach Guides:

The Essential Guide to Beachcombing and the Strandline

The Essential Guide to Beachcombing and the Strandline
Paperback | September 2015
This book will answer your questions and satisfy your curiosity about the treasures found cast up on the beach strandline, whether it is a beautiful seashell, a spent egg-case, a frond of seaweed or an exotic ocean voyager.

 

Collins Complete Guide to British Coastal WildlifeCollins Complete Guide to British Coastal Wildlife
Paperback | June 2012
Discover over 400 species of animals and plants found in the coastal regions of Britain and make the most of your explorations. This informative book is illustrated with beautiful photographs throughout, and is the perfect seashore companion.

 

Seaweeds of Britain and IrelandSeasearch Guide to Seaweeds of Britain and Ireland
Paperback | June 2017
This photographic guide aims to de-mystify seaweed identification for the non-specialist. Produced as part of the Seasearch project which offers training in the identification of marine life and habitats and encourages recording by volunteers.

RSPB Handbook of the Seashore

RSPB Handbook of the Seashore
Paperback | May 2013
This useful handbook will help you to identify and learn about the life cycles and anatomy of the species you discover at the seashore. It also features information on the tidal cycle and conservation and climate change concerns as well as advice on where to look for specimens.

 

The Rocky Shore Name TrailThe Rocky Shore Name Trail (Waterproof)
Unbound | April 2016
An eight-panel laminated fold-out chart designed to help you identify the seashore animals, lichens and seaweeds that you are most likely to see in the UK. It also describes some of the major environmental factors that influence them.

 

Browse the full range of Marine Fauna & Flora books and our selection of rock pooling equipment.

 

Top 10 Bat Boxes for New Builds and Developments

Schwegler 1WI Bat BoxLooking for a bat box but don’t know which one to buy? This article is the third in a three part series designed to help you to make the right choice. Here you will find our top 10 boxes for incorporating into the masonry of a new build or development. The previous two posts feature the best boxes for trees and woodland and for walls and fences.

For each box listed you will also find helpful information such as its dimensions and weight and the box type (e.g. whether it is for summer use, for hibernation or for access into an existing roost space).

The Glossary below provides a guide to the key terms used in the descriptions.

• Woodcrete/WoodStone: A blend of wood, concrete and clay which is very durable. Is is also breathable and helps to maintain a stable temperature inside the box.
• Summer: Summer boxes are suitable for the warmer months but are less likely to be used over the winter.
• Hibernation: Designed to be larger and better insulated, hibernation boxes will provide a safe and warm space for bats over the winter.
• Maternity: Suitable for the formation of colonies and raising of young.
• Access: Provides an entrance to an existing roof space such as a wall cavity or loft.
• Crevice: Provides one or more narrow roost space. Species which prefer this type of box include common, soprano and Nathusius pipistrelle, Brandt’s and whiskered bats.
• Cavity: Provides a more spacious roost space. Bats such as brown long-eared, Daubenton’s and Natterer’s bats prefer cavity boxes.
• Large cavity: These boxes allow space for flight within the roost which is preferred by brown long-eared bats in particular.


Schwegler 1FR Bat Tube1. Schwegler 1FR Bat Tube

• Made from: Woodcrete
• Dimensions: 47.5 x 20 x 12.5cm; 9.8kg
• Box type: Cavity, summer

 

Habibat Bat Box2. Habibat Bat Box

• Made from: Concrete and brick
• Dimensions: 44 x 21.5 x 10.2cm; 13.8kg
• Box type: Crevice, summer

 

Ibstock Enclosed Bat Box B3. Ibstock Enclosed Bat Box B: Small

• Made from: Concrete and brick
• Dimensions: 21.5 x 21.5 x 10.5cm; 5.8kg
• Box type: Crevice, summer

 

Schwegler 1FE Bat Access Panel4. Schwegler 1FE Bat Access Panel

• Made from: Woodcrete
• Dimensions: 30 x 30 x 8cm; 5.1kg
• Box type: Large cavity, access

 

Bat Access Tile Set5. Bat Access Tile Set

• Made from: Clay
• Dimensions: 25.5 x 16cm; 3.5kg
• Box type: Cavity/crevice, access

 

Bat Brick6. Bat Brick

• Made from: Brick
• Dimensions: 6 x 21.5 x 10cm; 1.9kg
• Box type: Cavity, access

Build-in WoodStone Bat Box7. Build-in WoodStone Bat Box

• Made from: WoodStone
• Dimensions: 50 x 22 x 14cm; 6.2kg
• Box type: Crevice, summer

 

Schwegler 1WI Bat Box8. Schwegler 1WI Bat Box

• Made from: Woodcrete
• Dimensions: 54.5 x 34.5 x 9.5cm; 15kg
• Box type: Crevice, hibernation and maternity

 

Ibstock Enclosed Bat Box C9. Ibstock Enclosed Bat Box C: Small

• Made from: Concrete and brick
• Dimensions: 21.5 x 21.5 x 10.5cm; 6.7kg
• Box type: Crevice, summer

 

Habibat Bat Access Slate10. Habibat Bat Access Slate

• Made from: Slate
• Dimensions: 41.8 x 37.5 x 8cm; 1.3kg
• Box type: Large cavity, access

Browse our full range of build-in bat boxes.


The full range of nest boxes can be found in our online shop, as well as a useful nest box price list which can be downloaded as a pdf.

 

Best Bird Boxes for Different Species

This guide is designed to help you choose the best bird box, based on the species of bird that you are hoping to attract, or that you know can be found in your garden or other outdoor space. Species are organised alphabetically by common name, and for each one we have included information about the preferred type of box and siting location. You will also find a handy list of suitable boxes available from NHBS.


Barn OwlTyto alba

• Box type: Large box with entrance hole measuring at least 150 x 200mm. An exercise platform for young owls is also beneficial.
• Siting guidelines: At least 4m high in an undisturbed area, away from roads. Boxes can be installed inside a barn if there is a clear flight path to the entrance.
• Suitable boxes:
Barn Owl Nest Box
Eco Barn Owl Nest Box
Triangular Barn Owl Nest Box
Schwegler Barn Owl Nest Box 23
Interior Barn Owl Nest Box


BlackbirdTurdus merula

• Box type: Medium box with platform-style front.
• Siting Guidelines: At least 1.5m high and preferably within a bush or shrub.
• Suitable boxes:
Blackbird FSC Nest Box


Blue TitCyanistes caerulus

• Box type – Small box with 25mm entrance hole. Will also use boxes with a larger hole if there isn’t competition from larger birds.
• Siting guidelines – Trees and walls in gardens and woodland. 1-5m in height with a clear flight path. Avoid direct sunlight and busy areas of the garden.
• Suitable boxes:
Traditional Wooden Bird Nest Box with 25mm hole
Small Bird Nest Box with 25mm Hole
Apex Bird Box with 25mm Hole
Schwegler 1B Nest Box with 26mm Hole


Black RedstartPhoenicurus ochruros

• Box type: Small box with open front.
• Siting guidelines: At least 3m high in an urban area.
• Suitable boxes:
Schwegler 2HW Nest Box
WoodStone Build-in Open Nest Box


Coal TitPeriparus ater

• Box type: Small box with 25mm entrance hole. Will also use boxes with a larger hole if there isn’t competition from larger birds.
• Siting guidelines: Site boxes low to the ground unless predation from cats is a problem.
• Suitable boxes:
Traditional Wooden Bird Nest Box with 25mm hole
Small Bird Nest Box with 25mm Hole
Apex Bird Box with 25mm Hole
Schwegler 1B Nest Box with 26mm Hole


Crested TitLophophanes cristatus

• Box type: Small box with 28mm entrance hole. Will also use boxes with a larger hole if there isn’t competition from larger birds.
• Siting guidelines: Trees and walls in garden or woodland. 1-5m in height with a clear flight path. There is some evidence to suggest that crested tits will only utilise boxes if they are filled with sawdust or wood shavings.
• Suitable boxes:
Vivara Pro Seville 28mm WoodStone Nest Box
Small Bird Nest Box with 28mm Hole
Apex Bird Box with 28mm Hole


DipperCinclus cinclus

• Box type: Medium box with open front.
• Siting guidelines: Adjacent to natural moving water.
• Suitable boxes:
No. 19 Schwegler Dipper and Pied Wagtail Nest Box
Eco Dipper and Wagtail Box


Great Spotted WoodpeckerDendrocopos major

• Box type: Medium box with 50mm entrance hole.
• Siting guidelines: On a tree at a height of 3 – 5m. Boxes should be stuffed with soft material such as rotten wood or bark.
• Suitable boxes:
Woodpecker/Starling Nest Box
Woodpecker Box


Great TitParus major

• Box type: Small box with 28mm entrance hole. Will also use boxes with a larger hole if there isn’t competition from larger birds.
• Siting guidelines: Trees and walls in gardens and woodland. 1-5m in height with a clear flight path.
• Suitable boxes:
Vivara Pro Seville 28mm WoodStone Nest Box
Small Bird Nest Box with 28mm Hole
Apex Bird Box with 28mm Hole


Green WoodpeckerPicus viridis

• Box type: Medium box with 60mm entrance hole.
• Siting guidelines: On a tree at a height of 3 – 5m. Boxes should be filled with soft material such as rotten wood or bark.
• Suitable boxes:
Large Bird Nest Box


Grey WagtailMotacilla cinerea

• Box type: Medium box with open front.
• Siting guidelines: On a wall (e.g. a bridge) near to fast flowing water.
• Suitable Boxes:
Grey Wagtail Nest Box
Eco Dipper and Wagtail Box
Vivara Pro Barcelona WoodStone Open Nest Box
Traditional Open Fronted Wooden Bird Nest Box


HobbyFalco subbuteo

• Box type: Nesting Basket 40-50cm in diameter
• Siting guidelines: In the top of a tree near the edge of a wood, preferably overlooking farmland or wetland.
• Suitable Boxes:
Long-Eared Owl and Hobby Nesting Basket
Schwegler Nesting Baskets for Large Birds: 40cm Diameter


House MartinDelichon urbica

• Box type: Bowl with narrow entrance.
• Siting guidelines: Directly beneath the eaves. Locations above windows and doors are often preferred, so a droppings board may be necessary.
• Suitable boxes:
House Martin Nests
Schwegler 9A-1 House Martin Single Box
Ceramic House Martin Bowl
Slide Out House Martin Nest


House SparrowPasser domesticus

• Box type: Small box with 32mm entrance hole.
• Siting guidelines: On trees or buildings at a height of 2m or above. House sparrows are colonial nesters so multiple boxes can be sited near to each other, or terraced boxes used.
• Suitable boxes:
Schwegler 1B Nest Box with 32mm Hole
Schwegler 1MR Avianex
Traditional Wooden Bird Nest Box with 32mm Hole
Apex Bird Box with 32mm Hole
Vivara Pro WoodStone 32mm Oval Nest Box
Starter Nest Box with 32mm Hole
Schwegler 1SP Sparrow Terrace
Sparrow Terrace Nest Box
House Sparrow Terrace FSC Nest Box
Build-in Terraced Sparrow Box


JackdawCorvus monedula

• Box type: Large box with 150mm entrance hole.
• Siting guidelines: As high as possible on a building or tree (minimum 3m). Jackdaws are colonial nesters so several boxes may be placed close together.
• Suitable boxes:
Tawny Owl, Jackdaw and Stock Dove Nest Box
Schwegler Jackdaw Nest Box 29


KestrelFalco tinnunculus

• Box type: Large box with open front.
• Siting guidelines: On a tree or building at a minimum height of 5m with a clear flight path to the entrance.
• Suitable boxes:
Kestrel Nest Box
Schwegler Kestrel Nest Box 28
Kestrel Open Nest Box


KingfisherAlcedo atthis

• Box type: Tunnel with rear nesting chamber.
• Siting guidelines: Buried in a vertical bank beside a slow moving river or lake. Only the entrance should be visible and it should be at least one metre above the maximum water level. Filling the tunnel with sand will improve the chances of occupation. If possible, two tunnels should be placed together, at least 70cm apart.
• Suitable boxes:
Schwegler Kingfisher and Sand Martin Nest Tunnel
Vivara Pro WoodStone Kingfisher Tunnel


Little OwlAthene noctua

• Box type: Tubular box with a 70mm entrance hole and internal baffle to reduce light.
• Siting guidelines: On a horizontal branch at a minimum height of 3m.
• Suitable boxes:
Wooden Little Owl Nest Box
Schwegler Little Owl Box 20
Schwegler Little Owl Box 22
Little Owl Apex Nest Box


Long-eared OwlAsio otus

• Box type: Nesting basket 30-40cm in diameter.
• Siting guidelines: Wire the basket into a tree at a minimum height of 4m. Line the bottom of the basket with small twigs.
• Suitable boxes:
Long-Eared Owl and Hobby Nesting Basket
Schwegler Nesting Baskets for Large Birds


Marsh TitPoecile palustris

• Box type: Small box with 25mm entrance hole.
• Siting guidelines: Site boxes low to the ground unless predation from cats is a problem.
• Suitable boxes:
Traditional Wooden Bird Nest Box with 25mm hole
Small Bird Nest Box with 25mm Hole
Apex Bird Box with 25mm Hole
Schwegler 1B Nest Box with 26mm Hole


NuthatchSitta europaea

• Box type: Small box with 32mm entrance hole.
• Siting guidelines: On a tree at a height of at least 3m and with a clear flight path.
• Suitable boxes:
5KL Schwegler Nuthatch Nest Box
Schwegler 1B Nest Box with 32mm Hole
Schwegler 1MR Avianex
Traditional Wooden Bird Nest Box with 32mm Hole
Apex Bird Box with 32mm Hole
Vivara Pro WoodStone 32mm Oval Nest Box


Pied FlycatcherFicedula hypoleuca

• Box type: Small box with 28mm entrance hole.
• Siting guidelines: In a woodland, preferably overlooking a glade. Boxes should be installed at a height of 2-4m. If competition with earlier nesting tits is a problem, the holes of several boxes may be blocked up until the flycatchers arrive.
• Suitable boxes:
Vivara Pro Seville 28mm WoodStone Nest Box
Small Bird Nest Box with 28mm Hole
Apex Bird Box with 28mm Hole


Pied WagtailMotacilla alba

• Box type: Small box with open front.
• Siting guidelines: On a tree or building at a height of up to 5m. Areas close to grassland and water preferable.
• Suitable boxes:
No. 19 Schwegler Dipper and Pied Wagtail Nest Box
1HE Schwegler Brick Box
Apex Robin Box
Vivara Pro Barcelona WoodStone Open Nest Box
Traditional Open Fronted Wooden Bird Nest Box


RedstartPhoenicurus phoenicurus

• Box type: Small box with 40mm entrance hole.
• Siting guidelines: On trees near woodland or parkland at a height of 1-3m.
• Suitable boxes:
1N Schwegler Deep Nest Box
2HW Schwegler Nest Box


RobinErithacus rubecula

• Box type: Small box with open front.
• Siting guidelines: Bury the box in thick vegetation. Boxes can be low to the ground if predation by cats is not a problem.
• Suitable boxes:
2H Schwegler Robin Box
Robin and Wren FSC Nest Box
Robin Nest Box
Traditional Open Fronted Wooden Bird Nest Box


Sand MartinRiparia riparia

• Box type: Tunnel, approximately 100mm in diameter
• Siting guidelines: Tunnels should be filled with sand and buried into an artificial or natural sandbank. (Banks should be vertical or slightly overhanging).
• Suitable boxes:
Sand Martin Nest Box
Schwegler Kingfisher and Sand Martin Nest Tunnel


Spotted flycatcherMuscicapa striata

• Box type: Small box with open front. Front panel should be fairly low.
• Siting guidelines: On a tree at a height of 2-4m and with a clear outlook (e.g. next to a lawn or woodland clearing). Alternatively on a building, nestled within ivy or other climbing plants.
• Suitable boxes:
Flatpack Bird Box – Open Front
Robin Nest Box


StarlingSturnus vulgaris

• Box type: Medium box with 45mm entrance hole.
• Siting guidelines: On a tree or building at a minimum height of 2.5m. Starlings nest colonially so several boxes may be placed close together.
• Suitable boxes:
Woodpecker/Starling Nest Box
Large Bird Nest Box
Woodpecker Box


Stock DoveColumba oenas

• Box type: Large box with 150mm entrance hole.
• Siting guidelines: At least 3m high on a tree overlooking open fields or in an open barn.
• Suitable boxes:
Tawny Owl, Jackdaw and Stock Dove Nest Box


SwallowHirundo rustica

• Box type: Open cup.
• Siting guidelines: Under ledge or rafters inside an outbuilding. Swallows nest colonially so several cups can be placed near to eachother.
• Suitable boxes:
No. 10 Schwegler Swallow Nest
WoodStone Swallow Nest Bowl
Ceramic Swallow Bowl
9A-1 Schwegler House Martin Single Box


SwiftApus apus

• Box type: Medium box with oval entrance (approx. 30 x 60mm). Where starlings are present, ensure the hole size is a maximum of 28mm in height.
• Siting guidelines: As high as possible either under the eaves of a building or in a loft space with access to the entrance through a wall or vent. A nesting mould or ring of plaited straw can be put into the box to encourage nest building.
• Suitable boxes:
WoodStone Swift Nest Box
No. 17A Schwegler Swift Nest Box (Triple Cavity)
FSC Wooden Swift Box
WoodStone and Timber Swift Nest Box
Vivara Pro Burgos WoodStone Swift Nest Box
No. 17B Schwegler Swift Nest Box (Single Cavity)
No. 16 Schwegler Swift Box
Schwegler Lightweight Swift Box Type 1A


Tawny OwlStrix aluco

• Box type: Large box or chimney-style box with 150mm entrance hole.
• Siting guidelines: On a tree at a height of at least 2.5m with a clear flight path (particularly below the box).
• Suitable boxes:
Tawny Owl Nest Box
Tawny Owl, Jackdaw and Stock Dove Nest Box


Tree SparrowPasser montanus

• Box type: Small box with 28mm hole.
• Siting guidelines: On a tree at a height of at least 2m. Tree sparrows will nest in groups so boxes can be placed near to one another.
• Suitable boxes:
Vivara Pro Seville 28mm WoodStone Nest Box
Small Bird Nest Box with 28mm Hole
Apex Bird Box with 28mm Hole


WrenTroglodytes troglodytes

• Box type: Small box with open front.
• Siting guidelines: Well hidden in thick, preferably thorny, undergrowth.
• Suitable boxes:
Robin and Wren FSC Nestbox
Schwegler 1ZA Wren Roundhouse
Vivara Pro Barcelona WoodStone Open Nest Box


 

Top 10 Bat Boxes for Walls and Fences

Improved Cavity Bat BoxLooking for a bat box but don’t know which one to buy? This article is the second in a three part series designed to help you to make the right choice.

Here you will find our top 10 boxes for installing on an external wall or fence. The first and third posts cover the best options for installing on a tree in a garden, park or woodland and for building into a new build or development.

For each box you will also find helpful information such as its dimensions and weight and the box type (e.g. whether it is for summer use, for hibernation or for access into an existing roost space).

The Glossary below provides a guide to the key terms used in the descriptions.

• Woodcrete/WoodStone: A blend of wood, concrete and clay which is very durable. Is is also breathable and helps to maintain a stable temperature inside the box.
• Summer: Summer boxes are suitable for the warmer months but are less likely to be used over the winter.
• Hibernation: Designed to be larger and better insulated, hibernation boxes will provide a safe and warm space for bats over the winter.
• Maternity: Suitable for the formation of colonies and raising of young.
• Access: Provides an entrance to an existing roof space such as a wall cavity or loft.
• Crevice: Provides one or more narrow roost space. Species which prefer this type of box include common, soprano and Nathusius pipistrelle, Brandt’s and whiskered bats.
• Cavity: Provides a more spacious roost space. Bats such as brown long-eared, Daubenton’s and Natterer’s bats prefer cavity boxes.
• Large cavity: These boxes allow space for flight within the roost which is preferred by brown long-eared bats in particular.


Schwegler 1FF Bat Box1. Schwegler 1FF Bat Box

• Made from: Woodcrete and wood
• Dimensions: 43 x 27 x 14cm; 9.5kg
• Box type: Cavity; summer

 

Schwegler 1FQ Bat Roost2. Schwegler 1FQ Bat Roost

• Made from: Woodcrete
• Dimensions: 60 x 35 x 9cm; 15.8kg
• Box type: Crevice, maternity

 

Schwegler 2FE Bat Shelter3. Schwegler 2FE Wall-Mounted Bat Shelter

• Made from: Woodcrete
• Dimensions: 30 x 25 x 5cm; 2.5kg
• Box type: Cavity, hibernation

 

Chavenage Bat Box4. Chavenage Bat Box

• Made from: FSC Wood
• Dimensions: 38 x 18 x 10cm; 1.2kg
• Box type: Cavity, summer

 

Schwegler 1WQ Bat Roost5. Schwegler 1WQ Summer & Winter Bat Roost

• Made from: Woodcrete
• Dimensions: 58 x 38 x 12cm; 22kg
• Box type: Crevice, hibernation and maternity

 

Improved Cavity Bat Box6. Improved Cavity Bat Box

• Made from: FSC Plywood
• Dimensions: 38 x 24 x 15cm; 1.5kg
• Box type: Cavity, summer

 

Slimline Wooden Bat Box7. Slimline Wooden Bat Box

• Made from: FSC Wood
• Dimensions: 40 x 14 x 12cm; 1.9kg
• Box type: Crevice, summer

 

Beaumaris WoodStone Bat Box8. Beaumaris WoodStone Bat Box: Midi

• Made from: WoodStone
• Dimensions: 65 x 40 x 28cm; 4.4kg
• Box type: Crevice, summer

 

Improved Roost Maternity Bat Box9. Improved Roost Maternity Bat Box

• Made from: FSC Plywood
• Dimensions: 49 x 26 x 13cm; 6.6kg
• Box type: Crevice, maternity

 

Low Profile WoodStone Bat Box10. Low Profile WoodStone Bat Box

• Made from: WoodStone
• Dimensions: 44 x 29 x 9cm; 4.7kg
• Box type: Crevice, summer

 

Browse our full range of bat boxes for external walls.

Top 10 Bat Boxes for Trees and Woodland

Schwegler 2F Bat Box front panel with one of its residents.

Looking for a bat box but don’t know which one to buy? This article is the first in a three part series designed to help you to make the right choice.

The following two posts will cover our bestselling boxes for walls and fences and for building into a new build or development.

Here you will find our top 10 boxes for installing on a tree, in a garden, park or woodland. For each box you will also find helpful information such as its dimensions and weight and the box type (e.g. whether it is for summer use, for hibernation or for access into an existing roost space).

The Glossary below provides a guide to the key terms used in the descriptions.

• Woodcrete/WoodStone: A blend of wood, concrete and clay which is very durable. Is is also breathable and helps to maintain a stable temperature inside the box.
• Summer: Summer boxes are suitable for the warmer months but are less likely to be used over the winter.
• Hibernation: Designed to be larger and better insulated, hibernation boxes will provide a safe and warm space for bats over the winter.
• Maternity: Suitable for the formation of colonies and raising of young.
• Access: Provides an entrance to an existing roof space such as a wall cavity or loft.
• Crevice: Provides one or more narrow roost space. Species which prefer this type of box include common, soprano and Nathusius pipistrelle, Brandt’s and whiskered bats.
• Cavity: Provides a more spacious roost space. Bats such as brown long-eared, Daubenton’s and Natterer’s bats prefer cavity boxes.
• Large cavity: These boxes allow space for flight within the roost which is preferred by brown long-eared bats in particular.


1. 2F Schwegler Bat Box

• Made from: Woodcrete
• Dimensions: 33 x 16 x 16cm; 4kg
• Box type: Cavity, summer

 

2. 2FN Schwegler Bat Box

• Made from: Woodcrete
• Dimensions: 36 x 16 x 16cm; 4.3kg
• Box type: Cavity, summer

 

3. Improved Crevice Bat Box (Double Crevice)

• Made from: FSC Plywood
• Dimensions: 33 x 16 x 13cm; 2kg
• Box type: Crevice, summer

 

4. NHBS Kent Bat Box

• Made from: Wood
• Dimensions: 47.5 x 24 x 17cm; 3.5kg
• Box type: Crevice, summer

 

5. Chavenage Bat Box

• Made from: FSC Wood
• Dimensions: 38 x 18 x 10cm; 1.2kg
• Box type: Cavity, summer

 

6. 1FS Schwegler Large Colony Bat Box

• Made from: Woodcrete
• Dimensions: 44 x 38 x 38cm; 10kg
• Box type: Large cavity, hibernation and maternity

 

7. Double Chamber Bat Box

• Made from: FSC Wood
• Dimensions: 31.3 x 16 x 16cm; 1.8kg
• Box type: Crevice, summer

 

8. 1FD Schwegler Bat Box

• Made from: Woodcrete
• Dimensions: 36 x 16 x 16cm; 4.8kg
• Box type: Large cavity, summer

 

9. Improved Cavity Bat Box

• Made from: FSC Plywood
• Dimensions: 38 x 24 x 15cm; 1.5kg
• Box type: Cavity, summer

 

10. Schwegler 1FW Bat Hibernation Box

• Made from: Woodcrete
• Dimensions: 50 x 38 x 38cm; 28kg
• Box type: Cavity, hibernation and maternity

 

Browse our full range of bat boxes for trees and woodland.


The full range of NHBS bat boxes can be found in our online shop, as well as a useful nest box price list which can be downloaded as a pdf.

 

How to put up a nest box

We have previously looked at the best time and place to install a nest box. Now we’d like to get down to the details, and take a look at the actual process of putting the box up.

For most situations, you will want to put the box on a tree, fence or wall, so we will address each of these individually. (If you have a box that is designed to be built into a house wall or roof, then it is likely that your builder will care of this for you).

The tips below are suitable for both bird and bat boxes.


Fixing to a tree
Tree Sparrow Nest Box

There are several things to be aware of when attaching a nest box to a living tree. The most important is that the growth of the tree will affect the fitting. This means that boxes should be checked at least once a year to make sure that they are still secure. A box which has fallen to the ground is of little use to birds, and one which falls down with a nest and eggs inside is disastrous.

The most common way to put up a nest box is using a strong nail which is at least 85mm in length. It is important to use aluminium nails, as these will not damage a chainsaw (or chainsaw user), should they be left in the tree when it is felled. Nylon, brass, copper and hardwood nails can also be used but steel nails should be avoided as they will quickly rust, making them difficult to adjust or remove.

Using a screw instead of a nail can also be a good option and means that you can loosen it by a couple of turns every year to compensate for the growth of the tree. Screws are more suitable for hardwood trees as they will be very difficult to adjust in softwood. Make sure that all nails or screws are removed from the tree if the boxes are taken down.

An alternative to using a nail or screw is to tie the box to the tree. Wire and synthetic twine both work well and, if boxes are tied loosely, they can be edged upwards as the tree grows. Boxes can also be hung from a horizontal branch if they come with a suitable hanger (e.g.  Schwegler 1B).

Fixing to a fence
Urban Bird Nest Box

Hanging a bird box on a fence poses fewer problems than siting a box on a tree, as you will not need to worry about the wood growing. Use a strong nail or screw and check it annually to make sure that it still feels secure.

 

Fixing to a wall
WoodStone Swift Nest Box

To fix a box to a brick wall will require a power drill with hammer action, masonry bits and a screwdriver. You will also need wall plugs and screws which are small enough to go through the hole in the box. Using the drill, make a hole which is slightly longer than your wall plug. (You can use a piece of tape around the drill bit to indicate the depth to which you need to drill). Insert the plug and then screw in the screw, first threading it through the hole in the box. Having a second person to hold the box will probably be helpful and, if you are using ladders, make sure that you take sensible steps to ensure your safety. Appropriate eye protection and clothing should always be worn.


Head over to nhbs.com for our full range of nest boxes, aluminium nails and ladders.

Top 10 Bird Boxes for New Builds and Developments

Vivara Pro House Sparrow Nest BoxThis is the final post in a three part series, designed to help you choose from our bestselling bird boxes. All of the boxes listed below are suitable for building into the masonry of a new build or development.

The previous two posts provide suggestions of boxes suitable for positioning on a tree in a garden, park or woodland, and for siting on a wall or fence.

For each box we have provided a quick guide to the material that it is made from, the entrance hole size and the species that the box is suitable for.


Schwegler 1SP Sparrow Terrace1. Schwegler 1SP Sparrow Terrace

• Made from: Woodcrete
• Entrance: 6 x oval (32 x 50mm)
• Suitable for: House sparrows, redstart, spotted flycatchers

Vivara Pro House Sparrow Nest Box2. Vivara Pro WoodStone House Sparrow Nest Box

• Made from: WoodStone
• Entrance: 2 x oval (32 x 50mm)
• Suitable for: House sparrows, tree sparrows

Schwegler No. 16 Swift Box3. No. 16 Schwegler Swift Box

• Made from: Woodcrete
• Entrance: 70 x 30mm
• Suitable for: Swifts

4. Schwegler Brick Nest BoxesSchwegler Brick Nest Boxes

• Made from: Woodcrete
• Entrance: 32mm, small oval (55 x 33mm) or large oval (110 x 80mm)
• Suitable for: 32mm – great tits, blue tits, marsh tits, coal tits, crested tits, redstart, nuthatches, tree sparrows and house sparrows; small oval – swifts; large oval – redstart, pied wagtail, spotted flycatchers

Build-in WoodStone Bat Box5. WoodStone Build-in Swift Nest Box A

• Made from: WoodStone
• Entrance: 65 x 30mm
• Suitable for: Swifts

 

Swift Box Smooth Brick

6. Swift Box – Smooth Brick

• Made from: Concrete and brick
• Entrance: 65 x 33mm
• Swifts

 

Ibstock Eco Habitat for Swifts7. Ibstock Eco-Habitat for Swifts

• Made from: Concrete
• Entrance: 52 x 30mm
• Suitable for: Swifts

 

Sparrow Box Smooth Brick8. Sparrow Box – Smooth Brick

• Made from: Concrete and brick
• Entrance: 32mm
• Suitable for: House sparrows

 

Terraced Sparrow Box Smooth Brick

9. Terraced Sparrow Box – Smooth Brick

• Made from: Concrete and brick
• Entrance: 3 x 32mm
• Suitable for: House sparrows

 

Starling Box Smooth Brick

10. Starling Box – Smooth Brick

• Made from: Concrete and brick
• Entrance: 45mm
• Suitable for: Starlings

 

Browse our full range of build-in nest boxes.


The full range of nest boxes can be found in our online shop, as well as a useful nest box price list which can be downloaded as a pdf.

 

Top 10 Bird Boxes for Walls and Fences

Vivara Pro WoodStone House Martin NestWelcome to the second in a series of three posts designed to help you choose the best bird box for your garden or other outdoor space.

This article includes a list of our top 10 bird boxes for positioning on a wall or fence. The first and third posts cover the best options for installing on a tree in a garden, park or woodland and for building into a new build or development.

For each box we have provided a quick guide to the material that it is made from, the entrance hole size and the species that the box is suitable for.


Traditional Wooden Bird Box1. Traditional Wooden Bird Nest Box

• Made from: European redwood (FSC)
• Entrance: 25mm or 32mm
• Suitable for: 25mm – blue tits, coal tits, marsh tits, crested tits; 32mm – great tits, nuthatches, tree sparrows, house sparrows

2. Schwegler 1SP Sparrow TerraceSchwegler 1SP Sparrow Terrace

• Made from: Woodcrete
• Entrance: 6 x oval (32 x 50mm)
• Suitable for: House sparrows, redstart, spotted flycatchers

House Martin Nests3. House Martin Nests

• Made from: WoodStone and plywood
• Entrance: 70 x 30mm
• Suitable for: House martins

WoodStone Swift Nest Box4. WoodStone Swift Nest Box

• Made from: WoodStone
• Entrance: 70 x 30mm
• Suitable for: Swifts

 

Schwegler 9a House Martin Nest5. Schwegler 9A House Martin Nest

• Made from: Woodcrete and chipboard
• Entrance: 70 x 25mm
• Suitable for: House martins

Sparrow Terrace Nest Box6. Sparrow Terrace Nest Box

• Made from: Exterior grade plywood (FSC)
• Entrance: Three, 32mm
• Suitable for: House sparrows, tree sparrows

FSC Wooden Swift Box7. FSC Wooden Swift Box

• Made from: Softwood (FSC)
• Entrance: 28 x 65mm
• Suitable for: Swifts

 

Schwegler 17a Swift Nest Box

8. No. 17A Schwegler Swift Nest Box

• Made from: Woodcrete
• Entrance: 32 x 70mm
• Suitable for: Swifts

Eco Barn Owl Nest Box9. Eco Barn Owl Nest Box

• Made from: Recycled plastic
• Entrance: 120 x 130mm
• Suitable for: Barn Owls

 

Vivara Pro Seville Nest Box10. Vivara Pro Seville 32mm WoodStone Nest Box

• Made from: WoodStone
• Entrance: 32mm
• Suitable for: Coal tits, blue tits, marsh tits, crested tits, redstart, nuthatches, pied flycatchers, house sparrows, tree sparrows

Browse our full range of nest boxes for external walls and fences.


The full range of nest boxes can be found in our online shop, as well as a useful nest box price list which can be downloaded as a pdf.

 

Books for Foraging

Blackberries by Jared Smith (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Foraging was my first introduction to the natural world.

While sounding slightly trite, this statement is non-the-less true. I grew up in a town, like most of us do, and before I started foraging for nothing more exciting than blackberries I didn’t pay much attention to ‘nature.’

So, what did foraging teach me about the natural world that climbing trees and making dens couldn’t?  Simply the realisation that blossoms provide pollen to pollinators such as bees, enabling the trees and shrubs to produce fruit. Eureka! So, that’s what bees are for! Then there are the seasons: not just for influencing the contents of the wardrobe, seasons were the on/off or pause for everything. I began to get excited, I discovered wild mushrooms, I was twelve and I’ve been foraging ever since.

Are we foraging too much?

Foraging is quite a controversial issue. There are lots of passionate arguments for and against it and a quick browse of the subject on the internet will tell you more. Like many, I am concerned that professional foragers can damage the natural environment. It seems logical that stripping out all the mushrooms or sea kale from a small area will damage that environment in some way. Surely foragers just need to abide by good practice, it’s the practitioner’s actions not the practice itself that can cause problems. Then there is the notion of sustaining oneself with ‘wild food.’ At best this notion is romantic, more likely delusional. My love of foraging is wholly based on getting outdoors and learning about nature – foraging is not an alternative to going to the shops.

Is it dangerous?

Firstly, you do need a book, especially if you are foraging for mushrooms; mis-identification can and does have dire consequences. You need to be careful and acquire knowledge with experience. You discover a sought-after Boletus edulis, considered the king of all mushrooms and totally delicious (I can vouch that they are). However, before you enjoy your gourmet mushroom, make sure the stem doesn’t turn blue when cut, otherwise you’re eating Boletus erythropus and are in for an unpleasant stomach ache. More serious consequences can occur from eating the morbidly named destroying angel, Amanita bisporigera, or the death cap, Amanita phalloides. Please be very familiar with both before you eat wild mushrooms.  A book will suffice as a identification checklist, but the best way is to find a specimen and take note of all its pertinent features, cross-referencing with more than one book if possible. Once you can confidently identify a destroying angel or a death cap, you can be confident the mushroom you are planning to eat isn’t one of them.

Away from the more well documented mushroom poisoning, you might find yourself spending your evening taking the tiny stalks out of every single elderberry in the clusters you’ve picked – the leaves, twigs, branches, stalks, seeds, and roots of Sambucus plants can contain a cyanidin glycoside, so it’s best to be safe. Oh, and you need to cook the berries too. You don’t have to take risks though, as the Woodland Trust has planted many community orchards in towns, resulting in enough blackberry and apple jam to last you a whole year.

Which books should I use?

There are lots of books available and we have compiled a short list here for you to browse. In no particular order, the following contain interesting and practical information on foraging:

Collins Food for Free
Richard Mabey
Paperback | 2007

 

 

Foraging: A Practical Guide to Finding & Preparing Free Wild Food
John Lewis-Stempel
Paperback | 2012

 

Collins Fungi Guide: The Most Complete Field Guide to the Mushrooms and Toadstools of Britain & Ireland
Stefan Buczack
Paperback | 2013

 

Edible Seashore
John Wright
Hardback | 2009

 

 

Hedgerow
John Wright
Hardback | 2010

 

 

Wild Food: A Complete Guide for Foragers
Roger Phillips
Hardback | 2014

 

 

Being outside in all weathers, learning about nature, connecting with the natural world, acquiring more and more knowledge and experience: whether you are in town, country or even the city there will be plants growing everywhere that you can eat. It’s fun, slightly dangerous and can give children their first and lasting experience of connecting with nature.  It did that for me and has stayed, and will stay with me all my life.