Feathered friends . . . and foes

04.05.2012

Investigating the tangled relationships of Kielder′s birds of prey.

A 26 year old research student is working the Forestry Commission to unravel the complex relationships between birds of prey in Kielder Water & Forest Park.

Goshawks, buzzards, ospreys, peregrines, sparrow hawks, kestrel, merlins and several owl species live in the 62,000 hectare (155,000 acre) Northumbrian wilderness, but little is known about the way they interact as a ‘feathered’ community and with other birds.

Now Sarah Hoy wants to shed light on this mysterious world.

She is striving for a postdoctoral degree at Aberdeen University, and her studies, part funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and Natural Research Ltd, will be much more than a desktop exercise.

For she will spend the better part of the next three years working with Forestry Commission rangers and ornithologists, putting down temporary roots in Kielder village.

"There are few places you could do this kind of research," said Sarah. "Not only are there long established study populations of birds like goshawk, tawny owls and peregrine falcons in Kielder, but there is a mountain of data already collected which can be further analysed.”

For more than thirty years Kielder has been the centre of the UK′s longest running tawny owl research project of its kind and other species have also been monitored by experts. Research may probe what effect the presence of goshawks has had on the tawny population and how owl behaviour and foraging times have been affected. More light may also be shed on raptors predating other raptors - a fairly common, but not well studied phenomenon.

Sarah, originally from North Lincolnshire, studied zoology at Manchester University and completed a Master′s degree in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation at Imperial College London.

Martin Davison, Forestry Commission ornithologist, said:

"It’s fascinating research, which could help our understanding of bird behaviour in what is a man-made forest. There are always winners and losers in nature and as Kielder matures some species do well, while others, like kestrel, decline. But fortunately human persecution, with birds being killed and eggs and chicks stolen, is not a major problem in Kielder. That means it is possible to look at the way species naturally impact on each other.”

People can find out more about forest birdlife by taking part in an owl night at Kielder Castle on Friday 18 May as part of the Wild at Kielder season. There will chance to join an evening visit to a Tawny owl nest box and watch chicks being ringed and weighed by experts. Booking is required on 01434 250209 and the cost is £10. It starts at 7pm. More information at www.visitkielder.com

Media calls to Richard Darn on 0775 367 0038.

Birds of prey are persecuted in many parts of the UK - despite being legally protected. Species like Hen Harrier have vanished from large swathes of the nation. The Forestry Commission is working with other partners to secure a future for many vulnerable birds.

The Forestry Commission is the government department responsible in England for protecting, expanding and promoting the sustainable management of woods and forests and increasing their value to society and the environment. Forestry makes a real contribution to sustainable development, providing social and environmental benefits arising from planting and managing attractive, as well as productive, woodlands. For more information go to www.forestry.gov.uk/NorthEastEngland

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