TWO barn own chicks have been raised to fledging age at RSPB Bempton Cliffs, as part of their ongoing conservation work.

The Bempton team were hoping for a new arrival when a pair of adult barn owls took up residency in spring. The wooden boxes, previously installed six years ago to encourage the breeding of barn owls, proved unsuccessful with only stock doves and a pair of kestrels taking up residency.

Dave Aitken, the site warden at Bempton Cliffs, said: “Barn owls are a regular feature on the reserve as the cliff top grassland is managed in a way that provides suitable hunting areas for them and supports small mammals, which are their staple diet.

“We had had no luck with them starting a family here, until now.”

Licensed staff monitored the protected species - who initially laid five eggs - while keeping the nesting activity out the public eye.

Three of the original five eggs hatched, with only two surviving until fledgling age.

The young barn owls can move up to 12km away, but they are more likely to remain within two kilometres of the nature reserve - if the habitat is suitable.

While there is a high mortality rate among fledgling birds, mainly from starvation during the winter period, the local barn owl population is thriving.

No-one is certain of the exact number of barn owls in the UK, but the estimate is about 9,000 pairs.

Dave added: “To finally have a pair use one of the two boxes is a real joy, and a very small conservation victory for this much-loved farmland species.”

RSPB Bempton Cliffs was awarded a Heritage Lottery Grant in July 2013.

Working with partners and supporters, the RSPB goal is to transform Bempton Cliffs into an internationally important wildlife tourism destination, which can be enjoyed by all.

Through large-scale investment, Bempton Cliffs safeguard the internationally important seabird colony, provide new leisure facilities and create learning and training opportunities for visitors and local communities.

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