I really enjoyed my first Birdfair and I'm very grateful for the help that I received to attend this event at Rutland Water Nature Reserve. It was a brilliant opportunity to catch up with friends, to make new friends and to thank those who supported me during my PhD. Furthermore, it was inspiring to meet dedicated individuals and organisations who are relentlessly working to end the illegal killing of birds and other wildlife.
As many of you are aware, the UK’s Little Owl population has declined by 65% in 25 years (source: BirdTrends 2014) - if assessed, they would be red-listed by the Birds of Conservation Concern committee. The Little Owl is a Species of European Conservation Concern and has declined in many other European countries, including France, Portugal and The Netherlands (source: BirdLife International). You can view this species’ UK abundance and distribution Atlas maps here, and learn more about its history in the UK here.
At Birdfair, I was keen to ask NGOs if we should be concerned by this owl’s rapid decline and if we should do anything/more to help UK Little Owls. Several smaller NGOs already support Little Owl nest box monitoring projects; a few larger NGOs have asked me to email their head office for answers to these questions. In 2012, Mark Avery wrote a blog titled ‘Little Owls – would you miss them?’ – I recommend that you read the comments at the end of Mark’s blog.
There is no doubt that the Little Owl is a popular bird in the UK but as it’s currently classified as an introduced species, it's difficult to allocate resources towards research and/or conservation of this owl. There are several long-term nest box projects which monitor for Little Owls, a Retrap Adults for Survival project and its presence/absence is recorded as part of annual bird count surveys - this work is primarily funded and carried out by volunteers. The Little Owl has infrequently been studied in the UK since the 1930s; I'm researching the breeding and feeding ecology of the Little Owl in England as a volunteer.
I spent much of the weekend visiting stands to learn more about their work and to share the UK Little Owl Project's aims. I was pleased that I wore my freshly printed UK Little Owl Project t-shirt as it helped to attract @UKLittleOwl followers. I was thrilled that people recognised this project and it was fantastic to meet people who have submitted their Little Owl sightings and promoted our work on social media – thank you for your help. You can submit your sightings here.
Finally, I was asked some interesting questions at Birdfair: Why is the Little Owl declining? Do you think that the Little Owl is declining due to pesticides? One of my bird guides states that there are UK Little Owl fossil records – were they introduced or reintroduced during the 19th Century? Will the Little Owl ever be classified as a native species in the UK? Little Owls are non-native – does their decline matter? I want to help my local Little Owls – what can I do to help them?
I will focus on these questions in future blog posts and I will provide you with a UK Little Owl Project update soon. Please keep reporting your sightings!