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DOWN AMPNEY BECOMES A ‘HABIT HERO’ TO FIGHT FALLING WILDLIFE NUMBERS
With help from the Barn Owl Centre, barn owls have received a number of luxury homes at Co-operative farm. Barn owls are being given a lifeline at a farm in Down Ampney, Gloucestershire, where The Co-operative Farms has set up a team of “Habitat Heroes” to help preserve the beautiful birds, which are one of the UK’s most iconic species.
The Habitat Heroes project aims to identify where investments and adaptations can be made on six farms across the UK, owned by The Co-operative Farms, to improve the habitats, feeding and breeding opportunities for species like barn owls, and endangered or protected species, including otters, bats and red squirrels, helping to safeguard them for the future.
The farm at Down Ampney has linked up with Gloucestershire’s Barn Owl Centre. The centre has created and erected three super-sized four-foot nesting boxes, called Barn Owl Manors, on the farm. The nesting boxes, which are the first of their kind, stand on six-foot high stilts and their innovative design deters other birds from nesting in them and makes it impossible for foxes to access, thereby increasing the chances of barn owls making them their home. The boxes have been fitted with a high-tech camera system, allowing non-invasive observation of nesting activity.
Vincent Jones from the Barn Owl Centre said: “We have worked hard to create the prefect environment for pairs of owls living on the farm. A number of the unique super-sized nesting boxes that we have created have now been erected on the farm and cameras have been fitted to allow non-invasive filming of any chicks that are born there.”
Down Ampney Farm Manager, James Taylor, is very excited about the barn owl project and says protecting the environment and wildlife on the land it farms is very important to The Co-operative: “As Britain’s biggest farmer we feel we have a responsibility to lead the way environmentally, and I’m delighted that our farm is taking part in this important national initiative. The Habitat Heroes project taking place at Down Ampney and five other sites across the country gives us the chance to go that bit further and look at ways we can really make our land work for local wildlife.”
Barn owls were chosen after James spotted pairs of barn owls circling the trees at different locations around the farm. Barn owls have declined in numbers over the past 50 years after some of prey-rich habitats in which they thrived shrank. The decline is now being reversed and the population is beginning to increase.
Barn owls mainly live on farmland, where they hunt for small mammals over rough grassland and along field edge, but the recreation of grassland areas on the edges of The Co-operative farmland is increasing the area of land on which they can hunt. The loss of old barns has also depleted the areas available for them to nest in, which is why artificial barn owl boxes are becoming more prevalent.
By launching the national wildlife project, The Co-operative Farms joins environmental campaigners taking direct action to preserve endangered or protected species, in response to the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and a continuing concern over a global decline in biodiversity.
The Co-operative Group is funding the project, whilst its farming business has harnessed the support of farm managers, local environmental groups and volunteers to carry out the vital environmental work to improve and sustain the habitats of species that are indigenous to the farms.
Building on the success of its award-winning “From Farm to Fork” scheme, which has welcomed more than 45, 000 schoolchildren to its farms nationwide, The Co-operative Farms will incorporate Habitat Heroes’ activities into The Co-operative’s Green Schools Revolution to encourage schools to take part in eco-friendly activities. Schools can register to benefit from Green Schools Revolution at www.greenschools.coop
Protecting the environment and inspiring young people are key elements in the Group’s groundbreaking Ethical Plan launched earlier this year.
The five other Co-operative farms involved in Habitat Heroes Project are Goole in Yorkshire, where water voles have been chosen; bats at Tillington in Herefordshire; otters at Coldham in Cambridgeshire; pollinators such as hoverflies, butterflies and bees at Stoughton in Leicestershire and red squirrels at Blairgowrie in Perthshire.
The farm in Down Ampney grows rapeseed and wheat, as well as producing honey. In 2010, a vineyard was recently planted at the farm, which will eventually produce English wine to be sold in Co-operative food stores.
The Co-operative Group is the UK’s largest mutual business, owned not by private shareholders but by almost six million consumers. It is the UK’s fifth biggest food retailer, the leading convenience store operator and a major financial services provider, operating both The Co-operative Bank and The Co-operative Insurance. Among its other businesses are the number one funeral services provider and Britain’s largest farming operation. As well as having clear financial and operational objectives, the Group has also set out its social and sustainability goals in its groundbreaking Ethical Plan, which specifies almost 50 commitments in these areas.
The Group operates over 5,000 retail trading outlets, employs more than 110,000 people and has an annual turnover of £13.7bn.
The Co-operative has a long agricultural heritage and has farmed land across the UK since 1896, when the Group bought its first farm to grow potatoes for Co-operative food stores. The “Grown by us” range consists of food and drink either grown by The Co-operative Farms, or made using ingredients grown by the business. Caring for the environment and growing good quality produce remain at the heart of The Co-operative Farms business.
The Co-operative Farms manages more than 50,000 acres of land, which it owns or farms on behalf of other landowners, from the north of Scotland to southern England.
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