Bid to reduce barn owl road deaths

A national conservation charity is launching a new pilot project to reduce the number of owls, particularly barn owls, killed on Norfolk's roads.

Research by the Hawk and Owl Trust shows that traffic kills a significant proportion of the young owl population and the problem is to be tackled using ground-breaking technology.

The trust initially wants people across the county to help in identifying accident blackspots by keeping an eye out and reporting any owl or bird of prey casualties on the roadside.

Hi-tech sensors, not thought to have been previously used in the UK, will then be installed where the number of owls being struck is especially high.

They work by reacting to approaching headlights and releasing one of five noises to encourage the bird to move.

Nigel Middleton, the trust's conservation officer for East Anglia, said: 'We hope the noise will alert owls or other birds of prey that could be at risk from the traffic. We'll monitor progress to identify any increase or reduction in owl mortality as a result.

'Where the deflectors are being trailed on moose in Sweden there's evidence that great grey owl road mortality has also gone down. As far as we know, our project will be the first to use the technology in Britain.'

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The experiment has been welcomed by the Hawk and Owl Trust President, Chris Packham.

'This seems a really sensible appliance of science and if it works we might see more owls,' he said.

The pioneering project has been funded in part by the Hawk and Owl Trust's 40th anniversary appeal last year and further funding will be sought if the detectors prove effective.

Between now and March, Mr Middleton will regularly scour two major Norfolk trunk roads for bird carcases.

He is focusing on the A149 between Yarmouth and King's Lynn and the A148, which passes the Hawk and Owl Trust's Sculthorpe Moor reserve.

The findings will be added to information received from the public, wildlife hospitals and ringing recoveries from British Trust for Ornithology data from 2005 onwards, to map active blackspots.

A Hawk and Owl Trust study for the Highways Agency between 1995 and 1998 found more than 3,000 barn owls were killed annually on UK dual carriageways and motorways between September and March.

If you see a barn owl or other bird of prey casualty, report your sightings to the Hawk and Owl Trust via the Trust's website www.hawkandowl.org or write to Sculthorpe Moor Community Nature Reserve, Turf Moor Road, Sculthorpe, Fakenham, Norfolk, NR21 9GN.