A Long eared Owl needs both dense forest to roost and nest and open grassland for hunting, to thrive
A new partnership between the Forestry Commission and the Hawk and Owl Trust is set to discover more about the rare and elusive Long-eared Owl.
Teams of volunteers will be carrying out surveys of these rare nocturnal birds in Forestry Commission forests.
The aim is to discover just how many breeding pairs there are in the South West.
The Long-eared Owl is Britain's rarest owl species and notoriously difficult to survey.
It is thought that there is a UK population of just 1,500-2000 pairs.
The Long-eared Owl requires a dual habitat, that of dense forests in which to roost and nest, and then open rough grassland for hunting where it particularly favours Upland and Moorland areas.
The surveys will take place in Forestry Commission woodlands at Haldon Forest, Bodmin Moor, Exmoor, Dartmoor and parts of Neroche on the Blackdown Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
They will start with pre-breeding surveys between mid-February and mid-March and will be using the recall method of surveying, which involves playing a recording of Long-eared owl calls and waiting for replies.
Conservation Officer for the Hawk and Owl Trust, Chris Sperring says: "I am really excited to be working with the Forestry Commission on these surveys. The fact is that due to their elusive ways we don't know much at all about the Long-eared Owl.
Volunteers will be carrying out surveys of these rarel birds
"It is a strongly nocturnal species, rarely seen during daylight and is well camouflaged and silent for most of the year. This lack of knowledge has meant that it isn't afforded any special legal protection or conservation status and is entirely omitted from the UK Birds of Conservation Concern List (BCC).
"However, I don't believe this is a reason for doing nothing. It is really important that we do find out more about it and record numbers as it is such a rare species."
Steve Minton, Planning Manager at the Forestry Commission adds: "We are pleased to be involved in this project.
"Our forests provide important habitats for a range of species and the more we are aware of which species are using our forests the more we can tailor future land management to meet their needs."
After the first surveys there will be summer surveys during May and June. All data recorded will be submitted to both the Forestry Commission as well as The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO).