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The Kestrel Highways Project

Plan for 240 Kestrel Nest Boxes in Neighbourhood of 240 miles of Highway

Kestrel hovering copyright Pete WalkdenThe Kestrel Highways Project is a Hawk and Owl Trust research project designed to discover whether lack of nesting sites is the reason for the falcon’s dramatic decline.

Backed by funding from the renowned conservationist Dr Luc Hoffmann, it aims to establish whether providing nest boxes within suitable feeding habitats will help to reverse the falcon’s population slump.

The kestrel is an iconic bird for motorists as it hovers above the rough grassland on roadside verges, looking for prey.

It is, however, no longer the most common bird of prey in the UK.

Buzzards and sparrowhawks are now thought to be more numerous, according to the report on the status of the UK’s birds of prey, ‘On a Wing and a Prayer’ (see page 8 of the report). It found that the kestrel had declined by a fifth between 1994 and 2005. To read or download the report | Click Here

The Trust’s plan is to provide vital nest boxes for kestrels in the vicinity of major roads in the UK, but not on them.

Trust staff and volunteers, including local members’ groups, have been selecting suitable sites (with landowners’ permission) for nest boxes along a 10-mile stretch ( one box per mile) of each of the roads identified in the project.

The nestboxes are then monitored in the spring to check occupation by breeding kestrels.

The target is 240 nest boxes along 240 miles of major roads in the United Kingdom.

“We want to see whether lack of nesting sites is the missing link – the reason for this roadside hunter’s worrying decline,” explained the project’s national co-ordinator, trustee Major Nigel Lewis, who is also responsible for the section along the A303.

Major Lewis and his group have made a great impact with the kestrel nestboxes they have put up on Salisbury Plain and around South Wiltshire in the last three decades.

Most are now regularly occupied by breeding kestrels and last year there were 54 pairs. Nigel has drawn on this experience in devising the Kestrel Highways project.

“In most case the nest boxes we will be putting up for the project will be mounted in trees, except in North Yorkshire.

“There our pilot project is taking place where the A171 crosses the Trust’s Fylingdales Moor conservation area, with no suitable trees. So we’ll be mounting boxes on poles instead,” he said.

“The results at the different sites and associated habitat will provide valuable data on the factors that affect the breeding ecology of these falcons.”

Results to date:
Kestrel pairs are faithful to their nesting site, once chosen they return year after year. It follows that new sites will only be taken either by Kestrels that have been displaced from their usual site (tree fallen down, etc.) or of course, by new breeding pairs. It takes time to get them occupied and especially now as the BTO has evidence that they are in serious decline. The results below show our progress so far.

YearBoxes UsedYoung Ringed
2010934
20111456
20122469
2013TBCTBC
201429101

Supporters can contribute by reporting sightings of kestrels in the project areas. That will help the Trust to get an idea about whether the new nest boxes are doing the trick. To report a sighting on one of the target roads | Click Here

Update on Target Roads
Nest boxes had been put up along the following stretches of road:

ENGLAND

      • A24, Worthing through Low Weald Area, West Sussex
      • A303, Mere to Amesbury, Wiltshire
      • A38, Bedminster Down, Bristol to Bridgwater, Somerset
      • A38, Alveston to Hardwicke, Gloucestershire
      • A370, from Bristol to Congresbury (where we have 10 boxes)
      • A46 Swainswick, Bath to Horton, South Gloucestershire
      • A420 Wick, South Gloucestershire, to Chippenham, Wiltshire
      • B4058, Frampton Cotterell to Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire
      • A148, Felbrigg Hall to Little Snoring, Norfolk
      • A171, Harwood Dale to Robin Hood’s Bay, North Yorkshire
      • B1416, from A171 to Sneaton Moor, North Yorkshire

WALES

      • A40/A465, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, to Longtown, Hereford

SCOTLAND

      • A75, Newton Stewart to Gatehouse of Fleet, Dumfries & Galloway

Further Info
The kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) can be seen hovering at the roadside, but is less common than in the recent past.

Providing nest boxes and other artificial nest sites for birds of prey to breed is a vital part of the Hawk and Owl Trust’s conservation work.