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Work on the farm this month has been all about getting our nesting boxes ready for use again.

We’re rather late doing this – ideally it’s an autumn job as many birds use nesting boxes to roost in during winter and then will use the same box to nest in during spring. But better late than never – most ‘house hunting’ for birds is just starting now.

All of our existing nesting boxes dotted around the farm have been cleaned out ready for new inhabitants, and we’ve been busy building more. A dozen new nesting boxes have gone up around our acres to encourage all sorts of small birds. The species they attract will depend on the nest box location, the type of box and the size of the entrance hole. 

We’ve some with a 25mm entrance perfect for blue, coal and marsh tits, and some with 28mm holes for great tits and tree sparrows, and some with 32mm entrances for nuthatches!

We’re also putting up a special nesting box to encourage house sparrows who like to nest in loose colonies, so their box is bigger with several separate entrances.

As attractive as these are to birds for nesting, most years we find nests being built in all sorts of places around the farm. This was especially true last year when the site was empty during lockdown in spring. The nesting birds moved in all over the place! The shower cabin at Meadow Keeper’s was home to a blackbird who raised two broods there. We had a wren in the wood store at Long View, and another blackbird in the log store at Roundhouse. Perfectly quiet and perfectly sheltered spots for them to raise a brood. 

Three new barn owl boxes have been built and will add to our existing one. Barn owl boxes need to be positioned either in a barn or on a mature tree that has a thick trunk – we’ve put ours in our main barn and two in mature oaks. They need to be either in isolated trees, or in a hedgerow on the edge of a woodland. The trees need a high canopy and few low branches – the owls need a clear flight line and to be able to be seen by a passing owl even when the tree is in full leaf. 

Last to go up will be a set of eco swallow nest cups. As you know we’re called Swallowtail Hill because the swallows have been returning here for hundreds of years. We’re Swallowtail Hill on maps going back as far as the 1600s. Each year we wait hopefully for their arrival and are so relieved when they make it! They usually make their own nests but we thought we’d add some encouragement by putting up a few ready-to-move-into ones as well. These nest cups are designed around the size and shape of natural swallow nests and are readily adopted by swallows. It means they use less energy to produce their nest and don’t need to find suitable nest building mud.  We’ll place them in the undercroft in our barnyard, in the donkey stable and in our two other barns too – as we know from past years these are secure places the swallows like to nest.

So it’s very much Location, Location, Location for our feathered friends. 

We’re putting up dormouse nesting boxes too – deep in our wood where we know we have the right kind of hazel and wild honeysuckle habitat to encourage them.

We’re going to produce a map of all our conservation work this year so that when you visit you can take a walk around and spot the various projects and learn more about them.

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