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Last Updated: Friday, 8 February 2008, 10:25 GMT
Owl success for former coal mine
Barn owl
Barn owls are among the species roosting at the nature reserve
A former coal mine is now home to all five of the UK's native owls, a conservation group has said.

Tawny, barn, little, long-eared and short-eared owls can all be found at Rainton Meadows, an expanse of grassland and wetland near Sunderland.

The nature reserve, once the site of Rye Hill opencast mine, is bordered by housing and commercial development.

Durham Wildlife Trust said the findings confirmed the area as a significant haven for the birds of prey.

A high population of small mammals, such as field voles, bank voles and wood mice, is thought to help sustain the owls.

'Real attraction'

Mark Richardson, the trust's deputy director, said: "The presence on our reserve of so many owls is particularly pleasing and a fine testament to the work that our staff and volunteers have been doing in recent years.

"To have all five native owls is excellent, especially considering the fall in numbers of species such as the barn owl.

"One of the main features of the reserve is the short-eared owl. We believe that we have had up to a dozen roosting at times and they have become a real attraction, as they hunt over the grasslands."

Over 200 species of birds have been recorded at the site in Houghton-le-Spring, including redshank, oystercatcher, lapwing and skylark.

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