Birdwatchers flock to see short-eared owls at Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire

Birdwatchers from across the East of England have spent the winter entranced by one of Britain’s most impressive birds.

Around ten short-eared owls have been seen on Burwell Fen, near Ely, Cambridgeshire, by rangers from the National Trust’s Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve.

The sandy-coloured owls, which are one of Britain’s largest and unlike many others thrive in open countryside, arrive on the reserve in October. The birds will leave the reserve, which home to many vulnerable wetland and grassland species, in in March for their breeding grounds in the Scottish uplands or northern Scandinavia.

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Short-eared owl at Wicken Fen, near Cambridge. Credit: Prashant Meswani

Birdwatchers have been treated to stunning views of the short-eared owls, capturing the owls performing mid-air acrobatics and skirmishes with other birds of prey.

But behind the pictures is an important conservation story that rangers from the National Trust reserve are keen to tell.

Martin Lester, Countryside Manager at Wicken Fen, said: “The habitat on Burwell Fen is ideal for the short eared owls. Their numbers have increased over recent years since we started grazing the fen with our konick ponies and highland cattle.

“The ponies and cattle help create a mixture of vegetation heights and open spaces that are perfect for voles – the owls’ preferred prey. It also has plenty of posts for the owls to roost. The fen is home to lots of vulnerable grassland and wetland species.

“The owls have been a big draw for birdwatchers and photographers across the region. And if people want the best views of the owls, they should stick to the raised banks or public footpaths. These banks offer panoramic views of the fen – and ensures our visitors to see the owls without disturbing these wonderful birds.”

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Short-eared owl hunting at Wicken Fen, near Cambridge. Credit: Prashant Meswani

National Trust rangers added that birdwatchers should not stray onto the fen in search of a better photograph of the owls.

Burwell Fen is a wintering home to a large number of vulnerable grassland and wetland species. Rangers said that by walking onto the fen would risk disturbing the birds and

Wicken’s other rare wildlife – and could lead to the owls looking for alternative wintering sites in the future.

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