Monday, February 24, 2020

Elmley Long-Earedonomics.

Long Eared Owl. There can't be many birds as charismatic as a Long-Eared Owl. Not particularly scarce - not Great-Grey Shrike scarce, for example, they are increasingly difficult to see. Mainly because that small minority of photographers who will keep getting closer and closer until they flush whatever bird they have chosen to pursue means that roosts are now kept secret, and anyway many roosts are often not in places suitable for viewing. LEO was top of my target list for 2020, so when they appeared at Elmley off I went.

Elmley was a bit of a surprise. It has slipped off my radar following the RSPBs departure and the farm began running the reserve themselves. The packed car park showed it clearly hasn't slipped off everyone's radar, and groups of people admiring two perched LEOs showed why they were there. That is when they weren't admiring a Short-Eared Owl perched up close up to the car park or taking the short walk to see a pair of Little Owls. Even so, despite the fences, I gather some photographers have been breaching the borders to try and get closer.

The LEO's were fantastic. Prolonged views from 20m distance. My understanding from twitter is that a tall LEO with erect ear tufts is a stressed LEO, and a fluffy bird with flattened ear tufts is a happy LEO, in which case these were happy birds, with one very happy watcher ticking them off for the first time in years.

There were three distinct groups present. Birders like myself, men with long lens cameras either taking pictures of the LEO or waiting for the SEO, and groups of women with bridge cameras having a fun day out. That's a mix of people I've only seen elsewhere at Minsmere.

In the light of that, having an honesty box requesting £5 per car seemed a bit naive. So when I returned with Mike the following week it wasn't a surprise to see a man on the gate asking for £5. He said they'd had a day with 300 cars and found £10 in the box. Even allowing for artistic licence, that's a bit of a miserable return.

Lets just do the numbers. 300 cars, £5 each, is £1,500. Were that to happen 7 days a week that's just over £10K. If that happened every week of the year that's about £500K.

Now, that isn't going to happen. But something like that might happen. Revenue could easily be north of £100K, and I don't know much about farming economics but I feel that would raise some eyebrows in the farm office. And that's before you've opened the farm cafe with coffee and cakes. Garden Centres that are successful, from observation, are basically cafe/restaurants that sell plants as a hobby. I'm guessing the same could apply for nature reserves; the wildlife gets the punters on the premises, and the cafe takes profit from a captive and willing crowd.

All of which goes to show that LEOs could be big business. Perhaps other reserves could plant clumps of bushes to attract them near their car park. We could have competing LEO roosts. When it comes to finding the bird that tops the list for combined charisma and scarcity, LEO is right at the top, so why not use their star quality to raise money for their welfare?

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