Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Little Owls - Big Problem

Many readers of this blog will know that there are a pair of little owls not far from the reserve at Strumpshaw. I had the (un)fortunate pleasure of finding them them earlier this year.
The unfortunate part of it is that through word of mouth it seems there is always a car parked at the site or someone standing under the tree in which the Little Owl is trying to roost/nest in.

We/I/the RSPB are receiving complaints from neighbours, landowners and other birders etc about various problems relating to these birds.
People have been trespassing onto private property, blocking the road by bad parking, disturbing a breeding pair of owls, generally loitering in the area for long periods and today I am told that someone was found climbing the tree!

This is unacceptable behaviour and unfortunately it is certainly blackening our name in the local area as well as giving the photographers that have stopped there a bad reputation.
Although it is not RSPB land the people who are visiting are visitors to the reserve and therefore linked to the RSPB.

The message is clear- please avoid stopping at the site, please leave the birds alone now so that links with Strumpshaw Fens landowners and neighbours stay on the positive side. By stopping and looking at these birds, spending long periods of time parked in the area and getting out of your cars you are damaging vital links with the local neighbours, something that has been positive for many years and needs to stay positive for the sake of the RSPB's involvement in the area. Something I am sure that many readers/visitors to the reserve will want to keep enjoying.

Please ensure that this message is told throughout the photography/birding circles- If you see people that you recognise at the LO location please inform them too, and do not give the location to anyone else.
If anyone is seen trespassing/climbing the tree or purposefully disturbing the Little owls to get a photograph please call 101 the non emergency police number and state that a wildlife crime is being carried out, they respond quickly.This number is also to be used throughout the breeding season on and off the reserve- don't get a criminal record for the sake of a photograph.


  1. Let's be frank,the photos on this blog made it easy for the birding / photographic community to locate the LO site.... and, of course, it is right by a public footpath!
    I wonder if the story of people trespassing / climbing the tree is a little exaggerated? I once was interviewed by the Police after an over-zealous 'citizen' phoned 101 when I (and two of Norfolk's better-known photographers) were imaging a Turtle Dove from a public footpath. The Police Officers were quite annoyed, and commented that Operation Compass, while good in principle, has occasionally been 'misinterpreted' by landowners for their own reasons. I'm not saying this is the case here, but I do think phoning 101 because someone has parked in a layby is a little extreme!

  2. If I'd have known the problems that single photo would cause I would not have posted it. (and before anyone asks- I stopped my car lowered the car window, stayed for a couple of minutes and drove off so as to not disturb them).
    The trespassing is a real issue as people have been wondering into the guys garden in order to get closer to the owl/s- no exaggeration, the climbing of the tree happened this morning but I don't know who why or what happened. A well known local photographer told me about it this afternoon along with the fact that he received a hostile reception from the landowner at first.

    I have not asked people to call 101 if people are parked in the space, but if people are actively disturbing breeding birds/trespassing with intent to disturb birds or similar I believe it is right to call 101.

    In essence the point I am trying to make above is that relations with our neighbours are very important and this is causing friction which is quite unnecessary. I would hope that the majority people will see that damage is being done and stay away from the area to save themselves and me grief.
    Like you, I want the birds to breed in the local area and if people are walking up to the birds until they fly away to get the best pic possible, they wont hang around for much longer.

  3. All fair comments: like you, I've photographed the Owls a couple of times, but only from the car and ALWAYS from the far end of the 'layby'....
    If anyone really did climb into the tree, he must be a total idiot - or more likely an egger. However, with some Norfolk landowners / farmers pulling up hedges, cutting down trees and killing Buzzards /. Foxes / Badgers, it might be seen as slightly hypocritical (and unfair) to have put pressure on you and the RSPB

  4. I'm pleased to hear you have been photographing from your car in the layby, you are one of the more sensitive and sensible owl observers, thanks. I'm sure the majority of people have been doing the same, It usually is the minority that think they need a better shot by getting as close as possible. I know you have been birding for many years and have learnt fieldcraft through that, unfortunately many photographers seem not to understand that walking up to their subject, taking a photo walking closer until flushing the bird is not good behaviour, especially a breeding pair of scarce birds.
    Yes the person that climbed the tree crossed a major boundary and prompted this message as it is the step too far and could well have been an egger hence the 101 reference.
    However hypocritical you feel it is, because the people causing the damage are affiliated with the reserve it is really up to us to let the owl watchers know that damage is being caused, that and the fact that when asked someone told them that Ben Lewis RSPB warden told them about the owls (if not you then a lie!) it is firmly on my shoulders!

  5. 'A rare birds turns up or private land near Strumpshaw, the bird is suppressed, due to unease about allowing access due to dispectful bird watcher and photographers in the past.' We have all heard these stories, and i am sure many great birds could not be appreciated because of this, likewise many people have been able to admire rare birds, because of the goodwill of landowners to let people in. What I am saying is the relationship Ben, the RSPB, other charities and local birders have with land owners and local residents is vital if we are all to enjoy the delights birding can bring. So if you see someone being disrespectful, don't be afraid to say something, many may just be nieve, and don't realise the implications their actions may have.

  6. Your comments about saying something are particularly true during the breeding season so don't be afraid to let people know the difference between right and wrong..... I will be!