An outstanding Hertfordshire naturalist

Peter Wilkinson's outstanding contribution to natural history and conservation has been dominated by owls.

A banker by profession, he has also been an active wildlife volunteer throughout his adult life and estimates there were only about eight months between 1976 and 2008 when he was not engaged in some activity for the British Trust for Ornithology or the British Ornithologists' Union. He trained as a bird ringer with Chris Mead, co-author of the 1982 Breeding Birds of Hertfordshire.

His work with owls took flight in the 1980s after meeting the professional ecologist Colin Shawyer, whom he trained as a ringer. Together they established a project that eventually coordinated seven ringers who were monitoring owls in 3,000 nest boxes on sites spread between Sussex and North Yorkshire.

The group has so far ringed 22,000 Barn Owls, amounting to one in ten of all Barn Owls ringed in Britain since 1909. Peter's personal tally has reached 4,000 chicks.

In Hertfordshire he has worked in the Stort Valley on the installation of 35 owl boxes as part of a project to engage landholders in better management practices to benefit wildlife. He also monitors boxes at Heartwood and at Mid-Herts Golf Course, where the annual ringing is used to make members aware of their club's value for wildlife as well as golf.

Since 1983, Peter has been monitoring a colony of House Martins at East Hyde on the River Lea. He has been dismayed to see it diminish in recent years and attributes a reduction in breeding from three to two broods a year to an increasing shortage of invertebrate food.

Barn Owls in Britain are, he suggests "too charismatic!" By this he means they attract attention disproportionate to their limited contribution to the global population. His priorities for the future lie, rather, with monitoring, understanding and addressing the declining populations of Swifts as well as House Martins, and also Yellow Wagtails and Corn Buntings.

His advice for those concerned with global warming and other relevant trends: "Do something – whatever you can – as even small contributions all add up!"

Photo: Peter Wilkinson with Tim Hill, who presented the 2023 Trevor James Award