‘Help protect our barn owls’

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A petition is being launched nationwide to protect barn owls in the Crowland area that campaigners fear are threatened by plans for an energy park.

For 20 years, the owls have nested in special boxes supplied to farmers as part of one of the country’s most important studies.

In the past, Peterborough City Council, which wants wind and solar farms on 900 acres of land at Newborough, bordering Crowland, has worked with the Wildlife Conservation Partnership and thousands of pound of taxpayers’ money has been ploughed into protecting the species.

Now the area has 60 breeding pairs, compared to six when the study began.

Concern for barn owls and other wildlife on Newborough Farm, America Farm and Morris Fen has been part of the argument lodged by protestors, who fear the natural habitat will be destroyed as well as tenant farmers losing their livelihoods.

Jackie Dugdale, a farmer and vice-chairman of Newborough Land Protection group, said: “If this plan goes ahead no-one really knows what the impact of the energy park will be.

“This is such an important study that has cost taxpayers thousands of pounds and it would be awful to lose this research.

“Petition forms are being sent all over the country and we are aiming to get at least 1,000 signatures – then if we need to we can take it to number 10.”

Tenant farmer John Harris has seen 36 fledglings born on his farm since he was given his box 20 years ago.

Mr Harris said: “Someone comes and checks it once or twice a year and if there are any fledglings they are ringed.

“It would be a tragedy if this was lost.”

Colin Shawyer, of the Wildlife Conservation Trust, said: “The area is one of the most important in the country and the council has invested a lot in protecting it.

“However, when any plan is being considered it is always important that the public has it’s say and councillors are informed of all concerns.”