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Kestrel Highways Project update on A303

An update on the A303 Kestrel Highways Project in Wiltshire which covers 30 miles of the hinterland bordering the A 303, from Mere to Andover. The current Kestrel Conservation Status is Amber, which means that there is a breeding decline in this species. Conservation efforts to provide safe nesting sites are key in helping maintain the population of these birds. 

Image: Major Nigel Lewis. Stapleford Kestrels

Running between Hampshire and Devon the A303 and the surrounding countryside provides ample feeding opportunity for Kestrels. Often seen hovering above grassy roadside banks, these long-tailed birds of prey have an impressive ability to hover for an inordinate length of time before swooping down onto unsuspecting prey.

Major Nigel Lewis MBE proposed and initiated the Kestrel Highways Project in 2008 when he was a H&OT Trustee. The project is still active in Wiltshire and despite recent unpredictable weather and pandemic restrictions, he was able to replace four nest boxes kindly donated by H&OT members. One site had to be changed due to the dominant scurry of interfering Squirrels! 

Image: Major Nigel Lewis. Kestrel with eggs

One of the boxes which was incorporated into the project was put up by Nigel and his wife 34 years ago.  At the time it was a lone tree with good all-round access. A strip wood now shields it from the prevailing Westerlies so access is limited. Despite this, it has been regularly used over the years by Kestrels and even Tawny Owls. 

In the 1970s Kestrels were rare across the UK and with the felling of trees which were blighted by Dutch Elm disease, the birds faced losing their natural nesting sites. To counter this the Trust set up Adopt a Box Project in 1992 to provide artificial nesting sites for cavity-nesting birds of prey, especially Kestrels and Barn Owls. Seven regions were selected in the UK and Nigel was responsible for the SW. Prior to this Nigel had proved that Kestrels and Tawny Owls readily accepted nest boxes in other counties.

Image: Major Nigel Lewis. Adult Kestrel with chicks

The construction of major trunk roads in the 1980 and 1990s in the UK such as the M25, M3, M4, provided Kestrels with grassy banks which became full of voles which the birds could hunt. The Kestrel became a common sight for drivers as they searched for prey in the grassy roadsides. Over the years since scrub and trees have taken over the grassy banks and the vole population has decreased.  As a result, in 2008 Nigel suggested that H&OT members should put up kestrel nest boxes near roadsides that would not only help the Kestrels but encourage members of the public to report sightings and thus recruit new members for the Hawk and Owl Trust; these boxes would be included in the ‘Adopt a Box’ Project.

The Adopt a Box Kestrel Highways programme in Wales and Scotland were unsuccessful, but in places like Somerset boxes are still going up and being monitored under the direction of Chris Sperring MBE and also in the Bath area.

Today the Adopt-a-Box Kestrel Highways boxes are deployed along the axis of suitable roads not necessarily on the roads, as some are now too busy with traffic and the banks are overgrown, but in safer sites nearby.


Image: Major Nigel Lewis. King Barrow, near Stonehenge A303

The continued success of the Adopt a Box project relies mostly on the support from our members for sponsoring replacement nest boxes. Kestrels and Barn Owls are listed as a choice of species in our Adopt a Box membership, you can read more about this here: https://hawkandowltrust.org/index.php/membership/adopt-a-box-membership 

Adopt a Box is a fantastic way to help us continue our work providing and maintaining nest boxes across the UK for a range of birds including Barn Owls, Tawny Owls, Little Owls, Peregrines and Kestrels. Read more about Kestrels here: https://hawkandowltrust.org/index.php/about-birds-of-prey/kestrel

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