Hunting for house martins

I drive home from work every day through the pretty village of Stonor in south Oxfordshire, but I have never looked carefully at the houses.  Now that I have claimed this grid square for the British Trust for Ornithology’s house martin survey I find that there is a lot of interesting architecture and variety in this small village.

The village of Stonor from the south

The village of Stonor from the south

The aim of the survey is to estimate the current UK population of house martins, which is now amber-listed in the UK following declining numbers elsewhere in Europe.  The survey, which is based on randomly-selected one-kilometre grid squares, develops a small-scale study which was carried out between 2009 and 2013.

Once you have chosen a square, you are required to carry out a recce visit from mid to late May to look for any signs of house martins and identify potential nesting habitat, and then make two visits, in June and July, to see if they are nesting.

I carried out my recce on 12 May on a beautiful evening.  I walked the length of the road northwards looking at the houses on the left, and then back looking to the right.

My square, SU7388

My square, SU7388

It was useful to be able to go along footpaths and bridleways at right angles to the road to see the backs of houses.  Some of them are interesting and unusual, like these almshouses.

The almshouses from the footpath

The almshouses from the footpath

There are no isolated buildings in my square, everything is along the road.

The barns are lovely, but I saw no sign of house martins there.

1 Barns

Nor were there any in a disused farmyard.

4 tumbledown barnsWhat I was looking for were firm, wide eaves, made of wood not slippery plastic.  Few of the Stonor houses have suitable nesting sites.  Many of the new houses have narrow eaves which would cause house martins difficulty; it should be a planning requirement for all new houses to have eaves which are suitable for house martins!

5 new houseNot only were there no signs of last-year’s nests, there were no house martins either.  I shall go back in June and hope that nevertheless there will be some activity.

There were house martins nesting in nearby Turville last year and I hope they will return.

House martin's nest on corner of School Lane, Turville

House martin’s nest on corner of School Lane, Turville

The house martin survey is not difficult and it is interesting to look at an area really closely. Do sign up for a square if there’s a free one that appeals to you.  It’s all on this page of the BTO website.

About campaignerkate

I am the general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and I campaign for public access, paths and open spaces in town and country.
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