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Operation Owl - ‘This is not a feature film, this is The One Show!’

By Sophie Morgan, Researcher / Coordinator

As the sun begins to drop the clock starts to tick, and before dawn the team will have traipsed back and forth across town for more than twelve hours - from the bustling centre to the industrial badlands (OK I just said that to make it sound cool). But today wildlife stalwart Mike Dilger and the rest of us aren’t 24hour party people, we’re out to sample an altogether different kind of nightlife.

Most of us think nature and noise don’t mix, that where the human population is at its most concentrated, wildlife is at its least. But unbeknownst to the bankers, the cabbies, the hipsters, the socialites and the huge variety of people that make London unique, there are among us five equally different owls. And we’re on a mission to find them and film them.

The diminutive Little Owl, which apparently falls over backwards when unexpectedly successful in extracting large earthworms, needs open parkland in which to hunt. Whereas the haunting call of a Tawny Owl can only be heard where there are mature trees in which to roost. The sturdier flying Short-eared Owl opts for long grass in which to hide. But, the ghostly Barn Owl’s metropolitan cousins must adopt nighttime stealth tactics to avoid a bullying from crows in their marshland home. And the elusive Long-eared Owl is quite frankly just a bit of an enigma. What they do, however, have in common is that they can all be found within the M25.

However, not without a little help. In order to assist Mike on his (epic) assignment we’ve enlisted the help of an urban twitching force to be reckoned with – the London Birders. From The RSPB and The London Wildlife Trust, to obsessive city birders hot out of the office, this squadron is deployed alongside the Icon satellite teams across London as Mike waits for the incoming calls.

The coming night will see us hiding motionless in a popular public park, stalking eerie noises in cemeteries, battling the wind in industrial estates and avoiding quicksand to retrieve camera traps. And that’s just what we film. What you won’t see is the hasty open mouthed kips amongst the camera equipment, the copious amount of caffeine ingested and a twisted ankle (filming at night is not without its hazards).

And is it worth it – do we capture any of the secretive nocturnal birds on camera? You’ll have to watch BBC’s The One Show on Thursday 19th April 7pm to find out…. but let’s just say, Mike’s late night victory dance will make an appearance (fortunately the rest of our bad moves are off camera).

In order to raise awareness of city owl populations and their conservation requirements The London Wildlife Trust are asking Londoners to record any owls they see or hear. So, if you do get lucky on your own Owl Prowl let The London Wildlife Trust know.



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