Long-eared owl breeding season protected by Mersey Gateway advance works
The breeding patterns of a pair of long-eared owls that have been nesting in Wigg Island are being protected thanks to work on the Mersey Gateway Project being brought forward to avoid disrupting their nesting season.
During November 2012 just under two hectares of woodland alongside the former Runcorn to Latchford canal spur on Wigg Island in Runcorn have been felled and cleared.
The woodland, which is along the route of the new Mersey Gateway Bridge, would have required clearing as part of the project, but the timing of the scheme has been altered to ensure the least impact on the habitat and local wildlife.
The trees and shrubs that have been cut down are being processed into wood chippings and will be used to prevent erosion and water run-off on the Wigg Island nature reserve. Around 25 tonnes of larger trees are being taken off site and used for kindling and firewood.
The work follows the completion of ecological survey work carried out at Wigg Island Local Nature Reserve in Runcorn over the past two years. This revealed that the pair of breeding Long-eared Owls used this area of the nature reserve in both 2011 and 2012. They are thought to be one of four pairs nesting between Runcorn and Warrington.
The Mersey Gateway Project is funding a scheme where alternative nesting baskets for the owls are being made as part of an environmental and educational initiative at Norton Priory Museum. These will be put up in suitable alternative locations in time for the start of their nesting season, which begins in mid-February. Local schoolchildren will then have a chance to observe the birds’ behaviour as part of their studies.
Paul Oldfield, Biodiversity Officer with the Mersey Gateway Project, said: “The Mersey Valley is a stronghold for this shy and elusive bird, and we will be monitoring the remaining woodland sites and nesting baskets during 2013. Long-eared owls are found on land largely created inadvertently by man, such as by-products of various industries and derelict areas.
He added: “The Mersey Gateway Project, with assistance from the Mersey Gateway Environmental Trust, is well placed to keep an eye on this species and, with careful monitoring and site management, will be able to maintain it as a breeding bird in this part of the Mersey Estuary.”
Duncan McNaughton, Chair of the Halton Natural Environment Round Table, said: “We receive quarterly monitoring reports from the Mersey Gateway team about the habitat and wildlife on this and other sites across the project. I am pleased that this essential work has been brought forward to minimise the impact on Wigg Island, and am looking forward to seeing the new nesting baskets from Norton Priory Museum.”
The area that has been cleared, which lies underneath the route of the new Mersey Gateway Bridge, will be landscaped as part of the development works, and an equivalent area of woodland will be replanted elsewhere as part of the wider Mersey Gateway landscaping scheme.
A special newsletter was sent to Wigg Island users informing them about the work prior to it taking place.