Barn Owl Conservation – And The Anglers Who DO Give ‘Two Hoots’

All anglers want to catch fish.

Some of us would even say we are obsessed to the point that nothing else matters – or even exists – when on the bank side or quietly wading the margins.

And then, out of nowhere, a flash of iridescent blue breaks the hunter’s trance as a Kingfisher – or possibly a pair – flits into and out of sight in a split second.

“Did that really happen?”

“Why did they have to pass so quickly?”

“Please, please come back so I can see you better next time!”

I challenge any angler who has seen such splendour to tell me they didn’t smile, didn’t quietly plead for another glimpse and didn’t, even for a few seconds, lose their focus on their fishing.

You did, didn’t you?

Equally, I’m guessing there are very few coarse anglers in the UK who won’t have been been entertained by a confident robin pinching maggots from a box that’s less than an arm’s length away. The float may have bobbed, the end of your rod may have wobbled, but only a bait alarm would have ended the magical moment of a connection through nature that transcends all else.

Such experiences are exactly why the Angling Trust’s Love Fishing, Love Nature campaign has been so warmly received since its launch in July. It’s a campaign which aims to highlight an angler’s love for the great outdoors and to showcase the great work many clubs, fisheries and individuals are doing to protect and enhance the environment and the waters we fish.

One such story involves a group of rugged anglers and fluffy, cuddly, baby Barn Owls.

For many years, the Macclesfield-based Prince Albert Angling Society has, like many other organisations across the country, placed general bird boxes around its waters. But one man wanted to take it further and suggested the addition of dedicated, specialised Barn Owl boxes. For the first five years, the only things that Ian Doyle’s structures attracted were wasp nests and pigeons but then the hard work began to pay off and since the first bona-fide arrivals, a total of 17 Barn Owl chicks have been produced out of PAAS boxes.

“For five years, I thought I’d persuaded the society to install nothing more than white elephants!” said Ian. “But then I got a call one morning to say we had Barn Owls and they were being closely guarded by a group of hard-nosed anglers!

Since then, we’ve worked with local experts at the Broxton Barn Owl Group, who originally helped us identify the correct sites for the boxes, and all the birds have been ringed, sexed and health-checked and the records sent to the British Trust for Ornithologists for onward distribution and use as part of a national database.”

“The PAAS project has had a huge impact on the local Barn Owl population,” says Joe Cooper of the Broxton Barn Owl Group. “We helped to identify the correct sites and of course we’re delighted that the work is paying off. A Barn Owl is very selective of its nesting site. You can put an old welly on a wall and a bird of some sort will always find a home in it, but a Barn Owl is very choosy. Their criteria focuses entirely on the surrounding habitat and potential food source. A Barn Owl will nest where it knows there’ll be an abundance of rodents such as Mice, Voles and Shrews and that means hedgerows and trees rather than in a box on a pole in the middle of a field.

When our group was formed in 1992/3, there were a suspected 6 pairs in Cheshire, but in 2021, the Barn Owl Trust recorded 153 different breeding pairs across the county and the Prince Albert project has definitely played a part in that.”

Thanks to the collaborative work undertaken by both groups, PAAS now has a community of Barn Owls that affords its members the pride of a job well done and the relatively rare sight of a Barn Owl’s effortless, graceful flight during daylight hours as well as in the more usual hours of darkness. It’s an experience that would definitely turn a ‘blank’ into a wonderful day.

“It really is a success story of anglers joining with nature and, importantly too, young anglers joining with the older generation,” said Ian. It’s added another layer to our angling community and it has been absolutely magical to see.”

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