Owl Sense: An interview with Miriam Darlington

We currently have a limited number of signed copies available!

Author photograph by Richard Austin

For most of her life, Miriam Darlington has obsessively tracked and studied wildlife. Qualified in modern languages, nature writing and field ecology, she is a Nature Notebook columnist at The Times. Her first book, Otter Country was published in 2012 and her latest book, Owl Sense was recently Book Of Week on BBC Radio 4.

We recently chatted to Miriam concerning her quest for wild encounters with UK and European owls.  

Owl Sense

It seems the main threat to barn owl numbers is the way our landscape has changed regarding commercial development and farming methods. What do you think is the single most important action regarding land management that could halt their decline and get their numbers growing sustainably?

 

It is all about protecting the owls’ habitat. As field vole and small mammal specialists the owls need rough grassland, where the small mammals live. The rough grassland needs to be protected, and wide enough strips around the field margins maintained and left so that a deep, soft litter layer of dead grasses can build up. This litter layer is essential for voles to tunnel through; this is what they need to survive, so it is all about helping farmers to be aware of this and funding them to manage this type of wildlife-friendly grasslands. Nesting sites are also vital; as mature trees are not replaced, and barns are unsympathetically converted, the owls will have no roosts and no nesting sites. Barn Owls need specialised, sheltered nest boxes in farm buildings. If they can feed, they can breed, and if they can breed they will continue to grace our countryside.

The volunteer work you undertook with The Barn Owl Trust was very interesting, but seemed quite intrusive to these reclusive, easily alarmed birds. What can you say to assuage my concerns? 

 

The Barn Owl site surveys that I observed and described may seem like an intrusion, but it was a vital part of the BOT’s conservation work and always carried out with the utmost care. I would describe it as a necessary intrusion, as it was part of a 10-yearly survey, an information gathering exercise altogether essential for our knowledge of how many owls are breeding in Devon and the South West. The status and numbers of occupied sites were ascertained, and farmers, landowners and general public could be advised accordingly; nest boxes were repaired or replaced, risks assessed and owners given invaluable conservation advice. I described an incident in the book where an owl flew out of the barn we were surveying, demonstrating that owls are very sensitive, the utmost care is always taken, and the laws around the protection of owls are very strict. We were working in warm, dry conditions and no harm came to the owls. The Barn Owl Trust work under licence from Natural England, knowing that if any owl is inadvertently disturbed, they will usually quickly return to their roost. However, with the risks in mind, the greatest care and respect as well as a strict protocol was always followed when surveying sites . We had to work quietly and quickly, counting, ringing and weighing young as rapidly as possible with no time wasted. Adult owls often roost away from the nest due to it being full of pestering young, so they were usually unaffected by our visit. In other cases, the adult owl(s) looked but stayed put as they were well hidden. In some cases, for instance busy working farm barns, the owls are used to all sorts of noise, machinery and disruption, and were completely habituated, and not disturbed at all. Most of the time the adult owls I saw were vigilant, rather than stressed. The young have no idea what is happening and become biddable when approached. All-in-all, the value of the data we gathered would far outweigh any small intrusions. But the general public should be aware that it is illegal to recklessly enter a nesting site without a licence, especially with the knowledge that owls are breeding there.

Historically, owls were viewed as harbingers of doom. This seems to have been replaced by the commercial ‘cutifying’ of owls. Can this still be considered a sort-of reverence – is this the best regard wild animals can now expect?

 

No, I feel we need more than that; we need to respect their wildness, not their cuteness. Humans need to remember to keep our distance; the owls are not there for our enjoyment after all, but as a vital part of a healthy ecosystem. It helps to attract our attention that they are beautiful and charismatic, and it can be thrilling to catch sight of one, but I don’t feel that simply seeing them as cute is any help at all. We need a deeper respect for them than that. We need to care for, respect and understand their needs, but I think reverence is probably too much to ask! I would say sympathy is important, and that should be taught/encouraged in schools.

I found the descriptions of Eagle Owls foraging around waste dumps quite disconcerting. Away from their natural environment, sustaining themselves on human waste seems a sad fate for any animal, let alone a magnificent eagle owl. Am I being overly sentimental and unrealistic?

Yes, it’s easy to see only ugliness there, and it seems like a shame, yes perhaps it is disconcerting, but it shows these creatures are adaptable. It is not desperation, it is opportunistic…and they were feeding on rats, not human waste, so it was probably win-win.

Staying with human and wild animal interactions, you mention recent new builds and the impact they can have. As the rate of new builds is unlikely to decline, do you think developers could do more to take wildlife into account and, if so, what would these measures look like and how would they be enforced?

I believe developers are legally obliged now, and have been for some years, by local authorities, to survey for wildlife and to mitigate for any wildlife found to be breeding there. I visited a site on the edge of my town recently where some of the houses had bat boxes and swift boxes. It is legally enforced already, but many people may be unaware of this.

Captive owls are increasingly popular, and you wrote a reflective passage concerning a little owl called Murray. Even naming a wild animal is anathema to many conservationists. However, your initial concern about a captive owl seemed to diminish as you saw the effect it had on the audience. Do you think displaying captive birds can help conservation efforts?

It is very complex. I don’t think keeping and displaying captive wild animals is the best idea, ultimately. Humans have been domesticating animals for millennia however and it is interesting to look at the long view. Although I am very uncomfortable with keeping wild animals as pets, I have witnessed two things: 1. That when they are kept properly by experienced professionals, they do not seem to suffer and can lead long and relatively safe and healthy lives; and 2. that they can have benefits; increased sympathy and understanding for the species, aspirational opportunities for marginalised people, help for suffering or socially isolated people. I’m not a scientist however. I don’t feel qualified to make the final decision on this. It’s easy to pontificate about the morality of it all, and to see the risks, but not so easy to untangle the costs to the animal and the benefits, economic, emotional and otherwise to some humans. In the end, when we wanted an animal for my family, we got a domestic dog, not an owl. I think that’s the best one could wish for, in the circumstances.

In your previous book Otter Country you describe the places you are in with as much awe as the animal you are hoping to see – the same with Owl Sense. Is it the wild place or its occupiers that move us? Even the government’s recent 25 Year Environment Plan alludes to the mental and physical health benefits natural spaces can provide; do you think conservation efforts would be better focused on wild places for their own sake or concentrate on the fauna and flora that inhabits them?

You can’t separate the two. The habitat comes first, but any expert will tell you that the animals are inseparable from their natural habitats. Look at what happened when wolves were reintroduced to Yosemite. The whole ecosystem began to restore itself when the wolves came back. My philosophy is to describe both; I feel passionately about the connections of the whole ecosystem, including the humans in it. I want to engender understanding and sympathy for that inseparableness. For most people, however, I expect going to a countryside place or a wild place is the most important, and encountering a wild animal, or knowing that there is a possibility of it will come second. I have focussed on owls and employed them as ambassadors, and animals can certainly attract public sympathy, but I suspect it is ownership of the land, stewardship of the land, the economic, health and social impacts of the land, that might win us the argument.

Your journey to Serbia to see the long-eared owls was amazing.  So many owls, living in apparent harmony in close proximity to humans. As these spaces develop, however, this balance will of course shift, and not in favour of the owls.  The only hope offered seemed to be tourism and, ironically, hunters preserving the landscape. Do you see these two options as the only solutions to ensuring the long-term survival of long-eared owls in Serbia?

Yes. I wouldn’t call it harmony necessarily, more like tolerance! The owls have been coming to the towns for many, many years and that will not change as long as the roost trees are preserved and farming does not intensify too quickly. As with Barn Owls, the owls need to fly out into the fields as they feed on the small rodents and small birds in the farmland.. this may become threatened with changes in farming as the country becomes more prosperous. Ecotourism will probably protect the state of things, as with the large owl roosts that are so spectacular; this economically deprived country needs every help it can get. The local people have caught on to this, but the authorities have some way to go with supporting it and fully and sustainably harnessing it. They key would be to harness ecotourism wholeheartedly. And yes, the hunters wish to preserve the habitats, which is excellent. It seems like the best arrangement, in the circumstances, and probably quite sustainable.

Your French guide, Gilles alluded to a dislike towards bird watchers (les ornithos) in the provinces.  He said that, while in the countryside, he couldn’t leave his bird book on show in the car as people would slash his tyres. Things aren’t so bad here in the UK, but do you consider being a conservationist akin to being a radical and a subversive? – has protecting the environment fully entered the consciousness of the mainstream?

I think it has entered mainstream consciousness, and has some superb advocates now, but the activists should never let down their guard; we all need activists keeping an eye because right now we can never afford to be complacent – complacency is a very human trait and one that has brought us into this mess. We need to be constantly asking questions, constantly probing, curious and vigilant, and if that is a form of activism, I’m with the activists. It’s about questions and sometimes challenges, I think that’s what the best journalism, environmentalism, nature writing, scientists and conservationists do best.

You make it clear that the decision to leave the EU is not what you would have wished for. Aside from potentially losing a connection with mainland Europe, do you envisage any pro and cons for the UK environment regarding Brexit?

 

I’m not enough of an expert to be able to answer that. I was mortified to find that Britain was going to separate itself from what appeared to be a friendly and well-meaning, beneficial alliance, especially in terms of conservation regulations, but am completely naïve about the economic and the conservation implications for the future – I think we just have to continue working to call our leaders to account, and never lose sight of our priorities.


Owl Sense
Hardback | February 2018
£12.99 £15.99

 

 

 

 

Otter Country
Paperback | May 2013
£7.99 £9.99

 

 

 

Miriam’s writing centres on the tension, overlaps and relationships between science, poetry, nature writing and the changing ecology of human-animal relations.  On a personal note I thought Owl Sense fulfilled this challenging undertaking.  The personal and evocative writing, all underpinned by the ecology, biology and historical significance of these amazing animals made this a joy to read.

Miriam Darlington signing stock at NHBS

Miriam called into NHBS to sign our stock; these will be available only while stocks last.

NHBS currently have price-offers on Owl Sense and Miriam’s previous book Otter Country.

Please note: Prices stated in this blogpost are correct as of 15th February 2018 and may be subject to change at any time.

The 2018 Big Garden Birdwatch

Great Tit by Jannis via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
The Big Garden Birdwatch provides the RSPB with a huge amount of data and allows them to monitor changes in abundance and distribution of garden birds throughout the UK. Image by Jannis via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch is the world’s largest garden wildlife survey – in 2017 almost half a million people submitted results! Now in its 39th year, this annual event has become vital in helping the RSPB monitor trends in the abundance and distribution of birds in the UK.

This year the survey takes place from Saturday 27th to Monday 29th January. It’s a great activity for the whole family, and all it takes is an hour of your time. Here’s how to take part:

  1. Choose a good place to view your garden. If you don’t have a garden then wrap up warm and head down to your local park or green space to take part from there.
  2. Watch the birds for an hour, counting the maximum number of each species you see at any one time. (This reduces the likelihood of counting the same bird more than once). Don’t forget to make a note of any other wildlife that you spot as well.
  3. Submit your results, either on the Big Garden Birdwatch website, or by posting a paper form.
  4. Look out for the results being published in March!

Useful links:

Recommended reading:

The Everyday Guide to British Birds
Charlie Elder
The perfect companion for nature enthusiasts and birdwatching beginners. It describes the most common and widespread species that a birder is likely to come across in Britain, and illustrates the features that make each of them unique.

 

Collins Bird Guide
Lars Svensson
The UK’s most popular bird guide. Covering Britain and Europe, the book provides all the information needed to identify any species at any time of year, with detailed text on size, habitat, range, identification and voice.

 

Britain’s Birds: An Identification Guide to the Birds of Britain and Ireland
Rob Hume et al.
Focusing on identification and containing maps, facts and figures on numbers and distributions, this breakthrough publication was devised by a team of lifelong birdwatchers, all with many years’ experience of showing people birds and producing user-friendly field guides.

Guide to the Top 50 Garden Birds
Edward Jackson and Andrew Simms
This handy fold-out guide is designed to help identify the majority of species likely to be found in a garden throughout the year. The choice of ‘top 50’ is based on the relative abundance of species recorded in the UK by the BTO Garden BirdWatch survey.

 

RSPB Pocket Guide to British Birds
Simon Harrap
A compact and informative field guide which covers more than 200 of the most common birds found in Britain. Features concise descriptions of each bird’s main characteristics including plumage, calls and song, confusion species, habitat, distribution and status, and behaviours.

 

A Practical Illustrated Guide to Attracting and Feeding Garden Birds
Ed. by Jen Green
This is the complete book of bird feeders, bird tables, birdbaths, nest boxes and backyard bird watching. It helps you learn what to feed garden birds, from seeds, grains and peanuts to fruits, suet cakes and fat balls, as well as how to attract birds by planting the right flowers, trees and shrubs.

Behind More Binoculars: An interview with the authors

Behind More BinocularsBehind More Binoculars: Interviews with Acclaimed Birdwatchers is the second book of interviews with birders. They are chosen to encompass a varied range of perspectives and approaches to birding.

We caught up with the authors, Keith Betton and Mark Avery, to ask them some questions about this insightful, humorous, thought-provoking and thoroughly unique approach to getting to the core of what makes birders tick.


Many of the interviewees’ route into birding was roaming the countryside near their homes during their childhood, often in rural locations. With parents now reluctant to let their children stray and wild spaces less common, do you think this presents a problem and if so, what is the best route now for children to discover and connect with the natural world?

Keith: I do see this as a problem for many young people who want to experience nature. Also, it is now more complicated for schools to organise nature rambles because of the health and safety checks that need to be made. There are still great local groups organised by RSPB Wildlife Explorers and some of the Wildlife Trusts – but just going out on your own is no longer an easy option.

Mark: It is a bit of a problem – but arguably the problem is in the parents’ heads. Looking back, I think I was a bit too cautious with my children and I was a lot less cautious than many parents. It is to do with what is normal – when I was a kid I headed out into the countryside all day and apart from a few bruises and grazes never came to any harm, but very few children get that delicious freedom these days.

I was encouraged that so many birders end up working in wildlife/conservation. What do you think inspires a young birder to move into conservation and not just focus on birds?

Keith: This is more a question for Mark I think. But they need to have passion for the bigger picture of conservation and not be thinking about earning much money.

Mark: Doing something that you feel is worthwhile and working with kindred spirits is a great way to spend your working life. You spend a lot of time at work – why not get a real kick out of it!

Behind More BinocularsAs the title suggests, all the interviewees were using binoculars and telescopes from quite an early age. I had binoculars from an early age (ostensibly for plane-spotting) but preferred to use my normal sight. Is it possible to be a birder without binoculars? Can you think of the gains and losses from using the naked eye instead of magnification?

Keith: The likes of Gilbert White in the 1700s made do without binoculars as they had not been invented, but today they are easy to obtain and don’t have to cost a fortune. Using all of your senses to detect nature is important, but unless you can see the details of the plumage you are missing out on so much.

Mark: Ears are important too. I’ve sometimes recorded how many species I detect and identify by sound before sight and it’s usually about 40% of them on a walk around my local area. Being attuned to nature comes with time. I have been walking down a busy noisy street in London and heard a bird call way above my head (often a Grey Wagtail – a bird with a loud simple flight call) and looked up to see it. No-one else paid it any attention of course. If I’d seen anyone else looking up I’d have known they were birders.

There is lots of travelling in this book; I’m going to avoid the obvious question regarding carbon footprint and concentrate on the positive. Jon Hornbuckle’s alarmingly dangerous travel adventures also resulted in him helping protect endangered birds and forests in Peru. What are the benefits travelling birders can bring to the birding and conservation movements?

Keith: If there were no people watching birds and wildlife in many of the world’s national parks then I think a significant number would be turned over to agriculture. If we all travelled everywhere the world’s carbon emissions would increase to the extent that climate change would accelerate further. But if birders travel to conservation areas then the local people have a reason to want those areas to be saved.

Mark: No, the obvious question is the best one. Why do nature lovers travel so much when they know it harms nature? Beats me!

In the ‘Last Thoughts’ chapter of the book you mention that the demographic for birders is rather mature and mainly men. You claim this gender balance is improving and bearing that in mind, what do you think a similar book to yours would look like in twenty years time?

Keith: While the gender imbalance is shifting I doubt it will ever reach 50/50, so such a book would probably still contain more accounts from males than females. The average age in both of our books was around 50-60, and partly that’s because you want to talk about what people have done in the past – and older people have more stories to tell. But it would be good to move that average age down a bit!

Mark: I think the differences in birding and nature conservation in 20 years’ time will be more interesting than the gender of who is talking about them. But I hope and expect a more even gender balance.

Behind More BinocularsThere was often some discussion about ‘boots on the ground’ verses ‘reports and research’ approach to birds and conservation. What are your thought about the right balance between meetings, media and marketing strategies verses getting your hands dirty in ‘the field’?

Keith: You need both – but the danger is that too much money can be devoted to discussing a conservation plan and then not enough to make the plan happen. One of my biggest concerns is the obsession with safety audits before even a simple action. I was really struck by Roy Dennis’s account of being at an Osprey nest tree that was at risk of falling down and just needed a few nails and strips of timber to keep it in place. None of the staff sent to inspect it could fix the tree as there had not been a full safety audit, so Roy just climbed up and did it himself. That’s boots on the ground (well boots on the tree actually!).

Mark: Conservation needs both. I started as a scientist working in the field – and loved it. But if you work for an organisation, and you rise up the hierarchy, you are going to spend more time wearing a tie, sitting in meetings and less in the rain with sore feet. We really do need people with a wide variety of skills to change the world. I do think though, well I would wouldn’t I, that having some senior people who have come through the ranks and know what it is like out in the field and at the base of the organisation is a good thing?

I really enjoyed Barbara Young’s interview, she had so much energy and conviction. I imagine her strident views and no-nonsense approach shook a few people up and she was convinced that nature conservation is a political issue. Do you agree – should nature conservation be more political, should birders and anglers for example see common ground, put differences aside and be a stronger political voice – should they even back a political party which shares their values or is that too far a step? If it is too far a step, how do you think the voice of birders and conservationists can be heard in the modern media blizzard that everyone is subjected to?

Keith: I’ll let Mark answer

Mark: Nature conservation is self-evidently political because it depends on altering people’s behaviour (and often they don’t want to change). You can’t increase Skylark numbers much without influencing hundreds or thousands of farmers. It’s difficult to talk to them all and persuade them to farm differently, but a change in incentives or legal requirements can get to lots of them. And that’s politics! Whether you use a stick or a carrot is politics. I don’t for a moment claim that birdwatchers must be political, but nature conservationists have to influence politics to have much impact. And the organisations to which we pay our subscriptions have to do a better job, as came out in a couple of interviews, at making that case. I don’t think that birders and anglers have completely overlapping views, but they do have partly overlapping needs – and that’s why they should work closer together on some issues (even if they fight like cats on others).

I can see why searching for rarities would be so addictive and many of the interviewees are very keen on recording them: what rarities do you expect to see turning up on these shores and which birds might go from rare to common in the UK over the next ten years?

Keith: Already in the last ten years my main birding area (Hampshire) has lost Yellow Wagtail and Tree Sparrow as a breeding species, and soon we may lose Willow Tit and Wood Warbler. We are likely to gain Great White Egret and Cattle Egret as breeders in the next ten years. As for real vagrants I think we’ll just keep getting a few new ones, although species that are declining in Europe (such as Aquatic Warbler) will turn up much less often.

Mark: Experience shows that we aren’t very good at getting these guesses right! Pass!

My final question maybe should have been my first, but can you tell me what inspired you to start interviewing birders in the first place?

Keith: It struck me that some of the real trailblazers of ornithology (such as Phil Hollom) were not going to be able to share their stories for much longer and so I sat down and got him to tell me about his life. Mark had a similar idea and came up with the idea for Behind the Binoculars. He wanted to interview me for the book. I agreed, and as it was still an early idea I suggested some other people who might be interesting to interview. In the end we realised we both had lots of ideas, and we agreed to work as a team.

Mark: They are interesting – sometimes peculiar, sometimes inspirational but interesting all the same.


About the authors

Keith Betton is a keen world birder, having seen over 8,000 species in over 100 countries.  In the UK he is heavily involved in bird monitoring, where he is a County Recorder. He has been a Council member of both the  RSPB and the BTO, currently Vice President of the latter.

Dr Mark Avery, many moons ago, worked for the RSPB and for 13 years was its Conservation Director.  He is now a writer, blogger and environmental campaigner and is prominent in the discussions over the future of driven grouse shooting in the UK.

 

 

 


Behind More Binoculars: Interviews with Acclaimed Birdwatchers is available to order from NHBS

Signed Copies Available

NHBS attended the recent BTO Conference and Keith has kindly signed some stock of Behind More Binoculars; we have a very limited stock, so should you order, please state ‘signed copy’ in the comments and we will do our best. If you want to catch up on the first volume of interviews we currently have a special offer on the hardback edition.

From all of us at NHBS, we wish you plenty of happy and successful birding adventures in 2018.

 

Flight Lines: Interview with Mike Toms

The Flight Lines Project is a collaboration between the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the Society of Wildlife Artists (SWLA). Using a unique combination of art, stories and science, this project aims to explore the lives of migrant birds and to highlight the challenges they face in a rapidly changing world.

In this interview with Flight Lines author, Mike Toms, we talk about the relationship between art and science, the importance of volunteer ornithologists and cultural differences in our attitudes to birds.


Flight Lines author, Mike Toms

I’m curious about the perceived division between the arts and the sciences. While it’s true that many artists portray images of the natural world in their work, there are not many situations where artists and scientists are required to work together towards a common aim. Flight Lines is obviously a wonderful example of this – where did the idea for the project come from and what do you consider to be the most important thing that came out of it?

There is growing evidence that audiences exposed to science and conservation messages through the creative arts are more likely to show meaningful change in their understanding, which suggests that those of us working in research should seek now opportunities to communicate the impact of our work. Flight Lines was made possible by the generous legacy left by Penny Hollow and the kindness of her executors. Penny, a long-standing BTO member was a regular at the Society of Wildlife Artists (SWLA) exhibitions, a great supporter and a lay member of the SWLA. The bringing together of artists and scientists to raise the profile of our migrant birds was a fitting tribute to her interests and something that we had been looking do alongside our programme of research into migrant birds. Not only has the project enabled us to tell the stories of our summer visitors to new audiences but it has also helped to underline how art and science can work together to effect change.

Flight LinesOur knowledge of where our migrant birds disappear to each year has vastly increased with the development of ever smaller and more advanced tracking devices and locators. What do you think will be the next big technological advancement in the study of bird migration?

It is the arrival of smaller and smaller devices that has revolutionised our understanding of the movements of migrant birds. The level of information that can now be collected through the use of GPS-tags and satellite-tags means that we can identify the sites and habitats used by migrant birds throughout the year. In some cases, such as with those tags that communicate via the mobile phone or satellite network, the information collected can be presented to the public in near real time, greatly adding to wider engagement with the science that is being undertaken. For the smallest birds, the tags used have to be retrieved the following year in order to download the data. As miniaturisation continues, we will soon be able to track the movements of Swallows, House Martins, Whitethroats and other small migrants in near real time. That will be a significant advancement for our understanding.

Whinchat, Blakeney by Richard JohnsonIn the UK I think it would be fair to say that we have an above average obsession with birds and their welfare. This is in stark contrast to many of the countries you discuss in the book, where birds are often viewed mainly as food or hunting trophies. What do you think is responsible for this difference in attitudes?

It is incredibly important to recognise the cultural differences that exist between countries in terms of how birds are viewed. Many of these are deeply rooted and extend back through generations, each shaped by local beliefs and opportunities, by living conditions and by trade. The hunting of migrant birds in North Africa, for example, is shaped by at least three different drivers: some are hunted for food by people living in very poor communities; others are hunted because of cultural beliefs, and many are hunted because there is a sizeable market for such commodities within the Middle East. It is important that we recognise how attitudes towards birds differ across the globe so that we can deliver approaches to conservation that are sensitive and appropriate.

Flight Lines trip to Senegal, West AfricaThe subject of supplementary feeding is currently a hot topic with the recent publication of an article in Science showing how great tits’ beaks have changed size due to the use of garden feeders. However, the messages we receive about feeding our garden birds are very mixed. Do you think the amount of supplementary feeding that occurs in the UK is a good thing overall?

The provision of supplementary food is one of the most common deliberate interactions between people and wild birds, supporting a wild bird care industry within the UK worth an estimated £210 million each year. Despite the huge amount of supplementary food provided in gardens we know surprisingly little about its impacts, which is one of the reasons why the BTO has been funding research into this topic over many years. Supplementary feeding may increase the overwinter survival of small birds, shape the communities of birds living alongside us and alter migration patterns and behaviour. It may also change the dynamics of competition between species or aid the spread of new and emerging diseases. Before we can say whether or not it is a good thing we need to improve our understanding of the associated costs and benefits, and look at these in relation to other human-bird interactions, such as climate and habitat change.

Scissor stone curlew by Harriet MeadCitizen science schemes are an incredibly powerful force in terms of obtaining large quantities of data and you frequently mention in your book how much of our knowledge about bird populations comes from the tireless efforts of volunteers. Do you think that being involved with a citizen science project is also empowering to the individual and can help to break down some of the boundaries between “professional” scientists and amateurs, making science and research more accessible to them?

The terms ‘professional’ and ‘amateur’ are often used incorrectly, suggesting that staff are professionals while volunteers are amateurs, when what is really meant is that staff get paid and volunteers don’t . Many volunteers are experts in their field, sometimes the expert, and the right approach to citizen science should recognise this. We know from various research studies that volunteers participate in citizen science for a whole host of different reasons, some linked to internal values – such as feeling good about yourself – and some to external – such as sharing expertise, contributing towards charitable objectives. A well run citizen science project should make the science being carried out more accessible to participants, enabling them to see how their contribution is being used to answer a particular research question and empowering them to recognise the impact that their involvement is facilitating.

Do you feel that your art is influenced by your love of birds and wildlife and, conversely, do you feel that your art affects your appreciation of the natural world?

Some of my writing – the prose and poetry – is influenced by the natural world and by the sense of place. This feeling for the natural world is equally evident when I am participating in BTO surveys, especially the Nest Record Scheme, where significant time is spent immersed in nature, watching birds and their behaviour in order to find and monitor nesting attempts.


Flight Lines is published by the British Trust for Ornithology and is available to buy from NHBS.

 

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 fight 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.

 

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 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.

 

Top 10 Bird Boxes for Trees and Woodland

So, you have the perfect space in mind for a bird box but don’t know which one to buy? No problem – this is the first in a series of three posts designed to help you make the right choice.

This article includes a list of our top 10 bird boxes for positioning on a tree in a garden, park or woodland. The following two articles will cover the best bird boxes for positioning on a wall or fence 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.


1. Schwegler 1B Nest Box

• Made from: Woodcrete
• Entrance: 26mm, 32mm or Oval (29 x 55mm)
• Suitable for: 26mm – blue tits, coal tits, marsh tits, crested tits; 32mm – great tits, nuthatches, tree sparrows, house sparrows; Oval – redstart

2. Traditional Wooden Bird 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


3.
Barn Owl Nest Box

• Made from: Exterior grade plywood (FSC)
• Entrance: 120 x 130mm
• Suitable for: Barn owls

 

4. Traditional Open Fronted Nest Box

• Made from: European redwood (FSC)
• Entrance: Open-fronted
• Suitable for: Robins, wrens, grey wagtails, pied wagtails, spotted flycatchers

 

5. Schwegler 3S Starling Nest Box

• Made from: Woodcrete
• Entrance: 45mm
• Suitable for: Starlings and overnight shelter for woodpeckers

 

6. Woodpecker/Starling Nest Box

• Made from: Exterior grade plywood
• Entrance: 45mm
• Suitable for: Great crested woodpeckers and starlings

 

7. 2GR Schwegler Nest Box

• Made from: Woodcrete
• Entrance: Oval (30 x 45mm) or three hole (27mm)
• Suitable for: Oval – nuthatches, redstart, tree sparrows, house sparrows, pied flycatchers; Three hole – blue tits, marsh tits, great tits

8. Tree Sparrow Nest Box

• Made from: Exterior quality plywood (FSC)
• Entrance: 28mm
• Suitable for: Tree sparrows, great tits, blue tits, crested tits, pied flycatchers

9. Robin and Wren FSC Nest Box

• Made from: Softwood (FSC)
• Entrance: Open (80 x 60mm)
• Suitable for: Robins and wrens

 

10. Starter Nest Box with 32mm Hole

• Made from: Softwood (FSC)
• Entrance: 32mm
• Suitable for: Great tits, blue tits, house sparrows, nuthatches

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


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

 

Orison for a Curlew: Interview with Horatio Clare

Orison for a Curlew takes us on a pilgrimage in search of the slender-billed curlew; once a common sight in its breeding grounds of Siberia, but now diminished to a handful of unconfirmed sightings. In this article, one of our book team Nigel Jones, talks to the author, Horatio Clare, about conservation, environmentalism and his hopes for the future of the titular bird.


The author, Horatio Clare

Despite the rather gloomy prognosis for the fate of the slender-billed curlew, your book seems to me about hope. Are you optimistic that conservation will gain ground due to stories such as the plight of Numenius tenuirostris, or do you think this story is more of a prelude of things to come?

It is about hope. I do think the hunger for watching nature footage, and writing and reading about the natural world will translate, given the unavoidable nature of climate and environmental awareness as the world changes, into action. My sense of my generation, currently in our forties, is that we came out of an easy time – the nineties – well aware of how lucky we were, and how things were going with the planet and capitalism generally – and that we have not seen the best of us yet. We have been getting it together, I know of great people in powerful positions, and others doing tremendous work, and I hope things will change for the better. Brexit and Trump are shattering reversals for the world and nature, but not insurmountable. Moreover, it seems the slender-billed curlew may not be on the way out! A population may breed in Kazakhstan and the birds may have been seen and filmed a few years ago in Holland.

Being such a delicate and ethereal creature; do you think the slender-billed curlew was always vulnerable to possible extinction, regardless of human activity; was there a more dominant species pushing it out of it’s niche?

No I am sure we are the dominant species which pushed it out, by draining marshes and polluting the water. It was surely vulnerable in that it is highly specialised.

The relentless corrosion of diminishing natural spaces is a strong theme in your book. The argument for development is usually ‘people come first’ and, by definition, wild spaces are mainly unoccupied by people. I would love to see the hundreds of white pelicans, spiralling up to find the thermals that you describe. However, most of us will only see a spectacle such as this on television, or envisage it vicariously. For me this is the paradox of conserving wild spaces for their own sake – how do we get everyone involved with conservation when only a few people ever get to experience what it creates? How do we make wild spaces matter to everybody?

Knowledge of the natural world and knowing what you are looking at can make a walk in the garden, park or road a safari. That is the way you make every space matter: put names and stories on the creatures that inhabit it. Funnily enough I have written two children’s books on the subject! Which makes me think, children’s literature being a kind of menagerie, we all begin as nature-lovers; it’s just that some adults discount the planet’s marvels, and certainly its needs. And of course corporations exist solely to harvest the planet’s riches as quickly as possible, heedless of environmental cost, if they are allowed to be, for the benefit of share-holders. I think some form of cooperativism between individuals and between nations offers the only hope for long-term sustainability.

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?

It is a sin to cause the extinction of a species, as Prof Kiss puts it in Orison. To fail to prevent the extinction of a species seems of a different order, if hard to enjoy. If you regard our privilege of dominance as responsibility, then we have a duty to look after all of what used to be called God’s creatures. We should not really accept anything less than bio-abundance and biodiversity, should we?

I really enjoyed meeting all the people in your book; their dedication, passion and commitment to the cause of conservation was wonderfully described, without ever reducing them to parodies or caricatures. For me they represented the ‘hope’ in your book. However, they all seemed at odds with the world, probably viewed by their relative governments as part of an ‘awkward squad’ and their work and funding was often in decline. What would you say to inspire a future generation of conservationist to take up the baton?

With journalism going through tough times, there is no better way to have the fun and the interest of being the awkward squad, travelling the world, getting up the noses of baddies and making the planet a better place than becoming an environmentalist! What a blessed and admirable profession! What adventure it offers! And…the happiest people you meet are naturalists and environmentalists, on the whole, though they deal in tragedy and folly often.

Licenced under CC BY SA 3.0, Naturalis Biodiversity Centre
Numenius tenuirostris Vieilliot, 1817

The hunting for sport, the mist nets and the bird markets make for a very threatening environment for migrating birds. However, it’s the drainage of the marshes for agriculture and the encroachment and contamination of heavy industry that you more frequently allude to as the biggest threat. Do you see hunting as a potential partner to conservation, or are those two pursuits always going to be in conflict?

Having just read Bowland Beth: The Life of an English Hen Harrier by David Cobham I feel hunting is unhelpful, if not abominable, but that may be a grouse-centric view. In Greece the numerous hunters are thought of with something like revulsion by some conservationists; the hunting I saw while living in Italy was an absolute disgrace. No doubt many hunters are great and ardent conservationists. Unfortunately many are not.

The slender-billed curlew sightings in recent history are difficult to verify. What are your hunches about their authenticity and when was the last recorded sighting that you believe was accurate?

The birds filmed in Holland in 2013 seem genuine but I am no expert. I believe they are seen – and recorded – now and then. I heard a report from Oman, but a confirmed sighting is a tricky thing: it seems you need two or more photos and absolute proof. My friend Istavan Moldovan is cautious about the 2013 footage – as I write he is chasing relict populations of Apollo butterflies in the Carpathians in Romania. Does that not sound like a great career?

The last question is a simple one, but maybe the most difficult to answer. I know you certainly hope so, but do you believe Numenius tenuirostris will ever be seen again?

I absolutely do. I am quite sure they are out there and it is my dream to see one! Thank you so much for your wonderfully intelligent and acute questions, quite the best!


Orison for a Curlew, written by Horatio Clare and illustrated by Beatrice Forshall, is published by Little Toller Books and is available in paperback and hardback.

Little Toller was established in 2008 with a singular purpose: to revive forgotten and classic books about nature and rural life in the British Isles.

Their Nature Classics Library series was established to re-publish gems of natural history writing, with up-to-date introductions by contemporary writers. The success of the series has now developed into a publishing programme which includes a series of monographs by authors like Fiona Sampson, John Burnside, Iain Sinclair and Adam Thorpe as well as stand-alone books – all attuned to nature and landscape and aimed at the general reader.

Each Little Toller writer brings something new to the series – but it’s always characterised by a deep understanding of the subject, combined with wonderful writing.  A sense of the personal reaction to the natural world is imperative. Little Toller also pay a great deal of attention to the aesthetic of their books, using artists to complement the writing to create a beautiful object, befitting Little Toller’s high publishing standards.

Little Toller is now preparing its books for the latter part of the year, notably the first ever biography of the legendary but enigmatic J A Baker, author of The Peregrine, and access to the new Baker archive has led to important new insights into his life. 2018 will see new books from Tim Dee on Landfill, a book about Ted Hughes and fishing called The Catch, and an examination of the landscape of the north of the Irish republic from Sean Lysaght. Little Toller’s sister charity Common Ground is also working on a large exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park next year, for which there will be a raft of publishing.