The complex relationships between birds of prey in Kielder Water & Forest Park will be explored in coming weeks.
Very little is known about the way in which goshawks, buzzards, ospreys, peregrines, sparrow hawks, kestrel, merlins and several owl species interact with each other in the 62,000 hectare (155,000 acre) Northumbrian wilderness.
Now, all this is about to change as Sarah Hoy, a research student is working the Forestry Commission, begins to shed light on this mysterious world.
Sarah, 26, is working on a postdoctoral degree at Aberdeen University, and her studies, part-funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and Natural Research Ltd, will be much more than a desktop exercise. She will spend most of the next three years working with Forestry Commission rangers and ornithologists and putting down temporary roots in Kielder village.
“There are few places you could do this kind of research,” said Sarah. “Not only are there long-established study populations of birds like goshawk, tawny owls and peregrine falcons in Kielder, but there is a mountain of data already collected which can be further analysed.”
For more than 30 years Kielder has been the centre of the UK’s longest running tawny owl research project. Other species have also been monitored by experts. It is hoped that the research may may look into the impact the presence of goshawks has had on the tawny owls. It will also see how owl behaviour and foraging times have been affected.
From North Lincolnshire, Sarah studied zoology at Manchester University. She has Master’s degree in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation at Imperial College London.
Martin Davison, Forestry Commission ornithologist, said the research “could help our understanding of bird behaviour in what is a man-made forest. There are always winners and losers in nature and as Kielder matures some species do well, while others, like the kestrel, decline.”
He added that human persecution – with birds being killed and eggs and chicks stolen – is not a major problem in Kielder. That means it is possible to look at the way species naturally impact on each other.
People can find out more about forest birdlife by taking part in an owl night at Kielder Castle May 18 as part of the Wild at Kielder season. There will chance to join an evening visit to a Tawny owl nest box and watch chicks being ringed and weighed by experts. Booking is required on 01434 250209 and the cost is £10. It starts at 7pm. More information at www.visitkielder.com.