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Page last updated at 14:33 GMT, Thursday, 21 January 2010
Survey in Devon forests aims to shed light on rare owl
By Laura Joint
BBC Devon

A Long-eared owl
The study aims to find out more about long-eared owls in Devon

A team of surveyors have their work cut out, as they look for the elusive long-eared owl in Devon's forests.

There are thought to be only a handful of breeding pairs in the county, and the best time to monitor them is in the dead of night.

But that is not deterring volunteers from the Hawk and Owl Trust.

Together with Forestry Commission staff, they will be camping out in woodlands in Devon in a survey between February and the summer of 2010.

"February is often freezing cold," said Chris Sperring of the Hawk and Owl Trust. "But it will be worth it."

The long-eared owl is the rarest of all owl species in the UK, with about 5,000 breeding pairs.

Haldon Forest
Haldon Forest is one of the woods being surveyed

Their numbers are in decline because of loss of habitat, but if the survey reveals more about their numbers and habits, action can be taken to help.

"We know they have an association with forestry plantations," said Chris, who has been working on long-eared owl conservation since the early 1990s.

"They nest and roost in trees but they hunt for small mammals across rough grassland, so they like forest edges.

"That's why we are working with the Forestry Commission to monitor their forests.

"We'll be out in the dead of night, listening out for their call - it's a single 'hoo' call.

"We'll be monitoring during February and March because it's the pre-breeding season and it's a good time to hear them calling.

"Then we'll be back in the summer to see if there are any signs of young ones."

Because so little is known about the numbers and habits of the long-eared owl, it is not afforded any protected status.

It is hoped the findings of this study will help towards getting some protection for the elusive creatures. The new information will also lead to habitat management for the owls.

While the survey volunteers are out in the forests, they will also be keeping their eyes and ears open for other species during the study - including the nightjar.

The Devon woodlands being surveyed are at Haldon Forest, Exmoor, Dartmoor and the Blackdown Hills.

Chris will be uploading findings as they happen, using his laptop in the woods - keep up to date at his blog website.

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