The North Ceredigion Kestrel Project

As you are probably aware, the Megan Jones Legacy enabled a project led by Mike Hayward to get under way providing nest boxes for kestrels.

Mike writes about the first year’s work:- The status of the Kestrel – Cudyll coch – in Ceredigion has been one of a steady decline in breeding pairs, especially over the past few decades. Undoubtedly some of this decline can be attributed to changes in farming, especially the intensive grazing of the hills and uplands, and to the loss of habitat due to forestry plantings.

Coupled with the loss of habitat a further likely factor has been the decrease in the number of potential nest sites such as old buildings, mine-workings and the removal of old trees in the course of the ‘tidying up’ of the country-side. With the help of the Megan Jones Legacy fund and of a team of dedicated nest box builders and installers, the North Ceredigion branch of the Trust has embarked on a project to install nest boxes throughout the county.

This programme is building on one initiated by the Trust and a few private individuals a few years ago. Similar projects are being undertaken in Pembrokeshire and parts of Powys and our local scheme should therefore help provide a continuum of potential nest sites and aid the wider conservation of the kestrel throughout Wales.

We worked with great partners such as Denmark Farm to put boxes up, especially near their small mammal rich grassland which should be a fantastic hunting ground.

During the autumn and winter months 50 boxes were constructed. We then needed to identify suitable sites for their installation – the requirements being suitable trees or posts adjacent to areas of rough grassland – rhos type pastures – and clear-felled forestry, which we expect to provide a healthy population of voles and other small mammals.

Such ecosystems are well distributed throughout the county and include some of the Trust reserves, such as Rhos Fulbrook, Rhos Glandenys and the Welsh Wildlife Centre and Teifi Marsh at Cardigan. The cooperation of the Coed Phoenix Project of mini-reserves in the Trefenter, Mynydd Bach and Lledrod area and of the National Nature Reserves of Cors Fochno and Cors Caron, the National Trust and other landowners has provided us with a large number of additional sites.

To date, 40 boxes have been installed at locations across the county – from Cors Fochno and Cwm Clettwr in the north to Cilgerran and the Teifi Marshes in the south. Unfortunately, the rather wet spring delayed installation so that few boxes were in place for this year’s nesting season. It is encouraging to report, however, that other nest boxes, which had been installed prior to this season, have been utilized.

Kestrel/windhover by Vaughn Matthews

Kestrel/windhover by Vaughn Matthews

Although the total number of occupied sites was down on previous years, the number of fledglings per nest was up. The lower occupancy rate may reflect the poor breeding season of 2013, attributable to the severe weather of the preceding winter.

Although the primary objective of the scheme is to provide nesting sites for kestrels, the boxes have proved to be attractive to other birds such as barn owl, tawny owl and stock dove. Even grey squirrels are using them as an alternative to their usual drays! ‘House swaps’ can work both ways and on the coastal cliffs of the county, kestrels have successfully reared broods in nest boxes installed for choughs. The boxes appear to provide greater protection from predation than nests on open cliff top ledges.