Saturday, 23 April 2011

Red Kite near West Grinstead

Red Kite over Sussex, originally uploaded by Christopher Mills.
I went for a walk this morning along the banks of the western branch of the Adur, starting at the Parish Church at West Grinstead and heading towards Partridge Green along public footpaths. I hadn't been walking long when I flushed a large raptor from a tree. Initially, it was so close it barely fit into the frame! Of course, it was facing entirely the wrong way for me so most of my shots were of a very dark bird - when I reviewed the images on the LCD, my first thought was that it was a Golden Eagle! I hadn't realised that Kites were that large, but apparently they can grow to 185cm wing span.

My reason for being there was - you guessed it - Barn Owls. The long, tussocky grass that line the river banks and surrounding land looked ideal. But there was no sign... however I'm convinced that the habitat would support at least one pair, so will return in a few weeks. Barn Owl activity should pick up mid May as the first owlets start to hatch.

While we're on the subject, I paid a fleeting visit to the Farm this morning to check for activity. While there, I inspected the grass; there is nothing in the way of a litter layer underneath the new growth. I put this down to the length of the cutting, and a combination of a late cut and excessive grazing in 2010 - which prevented further significant growth before winter. This resulted in no "grass fall", where the old grass collapses and provides the necessary habitat for field voles the following year. You can tell there are far fewer voles simply by visiting at night and listening - last year you could hear them squeaking away constantly. In comparison, those noises are now fewer and further between all over the Farm.

This combination of factors has degraded the habitat from a Barn Owl's perspective. It may also have been contributory to the male's failure to last the winter (though I understand he was getting on a bit in Barn Owl terms). So you have to question the management of the land - Why cut so short? Could a couple of the fields be left uncut for a year, or cut in rotation? Why do animals need to graze constantly through summer and autumn months? Hopefully, with the formation of the friends group (which I have belatedly added my name to, having been away for the meeting last week), we'll be able to find out. If the land is being managed by people with agricultural experience rather than conservation, this needs to be changed - maybe the Sussex Wildlife Trust can get involved; they have few interests at present in the north of the county. I understand the hay is cut and taken away without payment either way, so there is no financial necessity to maintain it in that way. Are the council able to obtain compensation under the Stewardship schemes? I'd be delighted to be involved if volunteers are required - as long as they buck the trend that most conservation groups seem to adhere to, of organising tasks during the working week. Useless unless you're retired or so wealthy that you don't need to work!

1 comment:

  1. I go along with everything you say Chris. You can count on my support. Interesting post. I missed the friends meeting but havn't heard anything yet.