the box

Duncan Thomas

Duncan Thomas

BASC north director. Duncan’s interests include fly fishing, lowland and upland game shooting, deer management and the breeding and training of gundogs. He beats, picks-up and shoots throughout the North West and is a well-known commentator on shooting and conservation matters.

BASC’s bird box project continues to go from strength to strength. Duncan Thomas shares his experiences to show how rewarding it can be to think outside the box when it comes to conservation efforts…

It has to be said, I’m really chuffed at the way the BASC bird box project has developed.

From some pretty humble beginnings, we are now in a place where more than 1,000 BASC-branded boxes have been put up across game/clay shoots, schools, gardens and farms throughout the UK.

Net gain is a something we speak of a lot in relation to shooting. In a nutshell, it encompasses leaving species and habitats in a state that improves on the status quo, be than in terms of quality and or quantity. 

Maintaining a conservation agenda and striving for net gain are key elements to the future of shooting sports and I think we can be well proud of our collective contribution. The bird box project has involved a vast range of partners, donors and keen participants of all ages.

Branching out

This year we “branched out” (pardon the pun) into some owl and kestrel boxes. Despite being late in their placement, many scored a breeding attempt.

We had been made aware of a kestrel site in Bowland which had suffered historical failure, almost certainly down to crow/jackdaw predation in a communal nesting barn.

So a suitable tree was selected 200m away to host a box. The box had been constructed by the formidable team of Ian and Lewis Bretherton, who make most of our Northern boxes.

Tree climbers Rhys Sargeant and Harry Watkinson scaled an old dying Elm, placing the box in the top half of the main branches. The box was given a “carpet” of gravel and wood chippings and we crossed our fingers…

To my amazement within days we had both kestrels and feral pigeons showing an interest.

Within the week, kestrel copulation followed and we started to count our chicks, despite the pigeons appearing to be more regular visitors. Breath was held.

Due to many sensitive woodland bird species nesting in the area, we increased the corvid predator control and even caught a crow “red-handed” one morning trying to raid the box.

Capturing the moment

As time went on, we started to see food passes at the box and it was clear we now had kestrels incubating.

We had fitted a SpyPoint camera to the site and got some average images as the chicks hatched, including a young tawny owl sat on the box one night.

However, capturing our residents in all their glory was going to require a decent photographer. Emma Greenhalgh of Ribble Valley Captured stepped in and took up the challenge.

Emma built a small hide a safe distance away and started to make regular non-disturbance visits, capturing some incredible images of the youngsters on and around the front of the box.

The youngsters were rapidly approaching fledging with the adults tempting them further and further away from the box into the branches to feed them voles and mice. 

The first night they spent out of the box we had twelve hours of heavy rain and I feared the worst. Thankfully they were still there the next day and spent hours drying their plumage in the summer sun.

Emma was a trooper. She spent some serious time quietly and patiently awaiting activity, often in clouds of horrendous Bowland midges.

Lift off

This last few days the four youngsters have fledged. They are still in the area, and although their food passes are now in trees fields away, we see them every day.

Installing the kestrel boxes been an immensely rewarding experience, and certainly a big team effort.

Huge thanks go to Ian and Lewis Bretherton; Glenn Whiting/Foxholes Country; our climbers Rhys Sargeant, Harry Watkinson and Daniel Howe; but most of all to Emma Greenhalgh for putting in the time.

This next autumn and winter will see many more boxes going up and we hope for many more successes to come.


Pictures courtesy of Emma Greenhalgh

Want to build your own BASC bird box

Click here for guidance and an our instructional video on creating and placing your own boxes.

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