NEW surveys are underway in the south-west of England to study long-eared owl populations.

It has been a decade since the UK’s rarest breeding owl species was last studied in this area and their numbers are thought to have declined significantly in the past century. Now, Forestry England and the Hawk and Owl Trust are carrying out a major survey of the birds across Somerset, Devon and Cornwall.

In a repeat of a 2009 survey, the project aims to give land managers a better understanding of the long-eared owl’s distribution, as well as allowing experts to monitor other nocturnal birds. The survey technique involves identifying potential nesting areas in each location, playing out long-eared owl calls – both male and female – over loud speakers for a minute, then listening in silence for a further minute for their calls back.

So far, the survey has recorded winter calling at three sites, but suitable habitat was recorded at many more. All locations will be revisited during the summer to search for signs of breeding success.