UOWG Project Results

Upper Onny Wildlife Group Annual Reports

Detailed Annual Reports have been produced since 2004. We have the active support of the AONB Partnership, Natural England, RSPB, National Trust and Shropshire Wildlife Trust. Full annual reports covering recent years are available on request by e-mailing UOWG@shropscwgs.org.uk.

Short (four-page) annual report summaries are available for recent years.The 2019 Annual Report can be downloaded from this link. Summary reports (MS Word documents or pdfs) of previous years can be downloaded by clicking on the appropriate year: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Brief outlines of our projects with annual reports where available are given below. Please scroll to the bottom of the page to see how you can help with these vital projects.

Invasive Alien Plants Reports

In 2015 the Shropshire Hills AONB funded the first year of a project to survey Japanese Knotweed and Himalayan Balsam along the Rivers West and East Onny and to instigate measures to control both species. Rob Rowe completed the survey, Natural England staff tackled the few Japanese Knotweed plants found and volunteers have pulled thousands of Himalayan Balsam plants along the West Onny. Fortunately the East Onny was clear of Himalayan Balsam. The 2019 report on the project can be found here. Earlier annual reports on this project can be found here (2015), here (2016), here (2017) and here (2018). A map showing the distribution of Himalayan Balsam in 2015 can be found here.


In the first three years (2004-06), the breeding population of this bird declined from 19 to 13 pairs in the area, and we forecast that, at the then current rate of decline, the breeding population would disappear within two years.  We launched a Lapwing Recovery Project, and worked with several individual farmers and Natural England to reverse the decline. We were successful initially, and the population increased to 28 pairs in 2009, but loss of habitat on the most important farm, and the abolition of set-aside on arable land, has led to a further decline, and the population in 2011-2014 fluctuated around the level at which we started: 17-19 pairs. Breeding success is poor (only one pair produced fledged young in 2011), the population is restricted to a few farms, and concentrated on one.

Preliminary results for 2014 suggest there were 18 breeding pairs. A map of 2014 records can be found here. For further comment see the 2014 summary report. Maps of breeding territory locations in Upper Onny Lapwing 2013 pp2013 and over the period 2004-12 are shown below; larger versions can be found by clicking on the links.

Upper Onny Lapwing 2004-12 pp

Maps for more recent years can be found by clicking on the chosen year:







The bubbling call of Curlews is one of the first signs of spring.  We initially found close to 40 pairs in the area. However, very few young birds fledge, and the older ones are dying off, so now there are around 30 – a quarter have gone in only ten years. Preliminary results for 2014 suggest there were 30-35 breeding pairs, including some pairs in locations from which Curlew had been absent for many years until 2013 (e.g. on the western slopes of The Stiperstones NNR). A map of areas where Curlew have been seen in 2019 can be viewed here and a map of 2019 territories can be viewed here. For further comment see the 2015 summary report here.

Nest loss is mainly due to predation by both mammalian and avian predators, but some losses result from farm management of grassland (field preparation and first silage cut while eggs on the ground, second silage cut and hay cut just before chicks fledge). A project supported by The Stiperstones and Corndon Hill Country LPS attempted to assess the success of Curlew nests and the causes of losses in the 2015 and 2016 breeding seasons. This work is continuing under the Curlew Country project. The decline in the local breeding population of curlew can be seen in the chart available here.

Curlews are declining everywhere, and this area is very important for them – it holds perhaps one-quarter of the Shropshire population. Maps of the breeding territories in 2013 and over the period 2004-12 are shown below; larger versions can be obtained by clicking on the links. The map for 2015 can be seen by clicking on this link.

Upper Onny Curlew 2013 ppUpper Onny Curlew 2004-12 pp clip








Curlews inhabit wet grassland, rushy pasture and hay meadows, and we produced a leaflet, Conserve our Curlews Please to promote management of these types of farmland to help these iconic birds.

The results of a Curlew nest monitoring project are reported on a separate page.

  • Rapid and effective action is needed if Lapwing and Curlew are not to disappear from our area forever


The mapping of sightings and nest box records for Kestrel started in 2018 and the results for that year can be found here.

Nest Box Schemes

The Group operates three nest box schemes, for Barn Owls, small woodland birds, and Dippers.

Barn Owls

The Group has provided 31 Barn Owl nest boxes to farmers and landowners with suitable habitat. Barn Owls need:-

  • an isolated farm building, or large isolated tree or pole more than 400 metres from the nearest woodland, and
  • four hectares (ten acres) of permanent rough grassland nearby, several inches tall to provide cover for voles and other prey

In 2011, 20 such boxes, and several known natural sites, were monitored. Nests were found in five boxes and two natural sites. We estimate the population at around 10 pairs. In 2013 Barn owls had their worst breeding season for many years due to adverse weather conditions and no fledged young were recorded. Although only 3 young were known to have fledged in 2014 this is hopefully the start of a recovery.

The Shropshire Barn Owl Group has shown that pairs nesting in boxes produce more young than pairs using natural sites, and we hope the boxes will allow numbers to increase in our area. The boxes are more likely to be occupied in places where there are owls already, and we can provide boxes at new sites if the habitat is suitable. A report on the breeding activity in UOWG barn owl boxes is included in the annual report.

  •  If you think you have a suitable site, or if you see a Barn Owl, we’d like to know, please.

Small Woodland Birds

When funds allow we have provided, free of charge, small nest boxes in groups of 10 to people who had suitable sites, and who agreed to maintain them (basically, clean them out each year), provide us with a report on the birds that use them, and the outcome. If the boxes are clustered in groups of four, it is likely that a Great Tit and a Blue Tit will occupy two of them , but their territorial behaviour will prevent other tits from occupying the nearby boxes, so they may be used by other, scarcer species.

In addition over 500 boxes had been put up along the banks of R. Onny for Pied Flycatcher and Redstart. These boxes are checked as part of a ringing programme and in 2019 521 boxes were checked; 198 (38%) were occupied (59 Pied Flycatcher, 7 Redstart, 73 Blue Tit, 48 Great Tit, 1 Coal Tit, 7 unidentified Tit and 3 Nuthatch). Of the 77 adult Pied Flycatcher caught 36 were already ringed and 41 were ringed for the first time; in addition 220 nestlings were ringed. For Redstart 7 adults were captured of which one was a re-capture, and 29 nestlings were ringed.  The ringing project has been running for several years and is yielding important information on the biology of these birds.

  • If you would like to participate, please let us know.


Dippers feed almost exclusively on larvae that live on the stony beds of fast flowing streams, and the Upper Onny is one of their strongholds in Shropshire. Although some Dippers nest in natural cavities along the riverbank, others build nests on ledges on bridges, and they take readily to nest boxes. Each nest box must be located directly above the flowing water, in a position where predators are unable to reach it.

UOWG volunteers checking Dipper nest boxes. Image copyright Tom Perkins.

UOWG volunteers checking Dipper nest boxes. Image copyright Tom Perkins

Virtually every bridge in the area now has a Dipper nest box, and several bridges have two. Over 50 boxes have now been installed, on the West Onny, East Onny, Darnford Brook and Criftin Brook, and on the Onny below the confluence at Eaton.

In 2019, 23 sites were visited, and 16 were occupied. Fourteen broods produced a total of 52 young, all of which were ringed. Fifteen adults were colour ringed. Over several years, our results have shown that the nest box scheme has increased the population – there are more potential nest sites, and pairs that nest in boxes produce more fledged young.

A full report on Dippers throughout the River Teme catchment in 2011 and 2012 has been produced and is available for download here (pdf, 500KB). The summary of the report is reproduced below:

Dippers were monitored at around 70 winter roost sites in the River Teme Catchment from 1987 to 2000. This Project resumed this monitoring in 2006, and has also implemented a nest box scheme. By the start of the 2012 breeding season, boxes had been installed at around 150 sites. In 2011 and 2012 a total of 141 nesting pairs were found, with 85 (60.3%) nesting in boxes.

Comparison of results obtained in 2006 – 2009 with those from the 1980s and 1990s show an initial overall decline in the number of Dippers, with a much greater decline on the lower reaches of the rivers than on the upper reaches, and a deterioration in the condition of the birds (measured by average body weight).

This is attributed to a reduction in food supply as a result of poorer quality rivers, primarily due to pollution from, and silting up by, agricultural activities.

However, more Dippers were found in 2009 and 2010 than in any previous year, due to an increase in the number of nest sites in the upper reaches of the rivers, and improved breeding success, as a result of the nest boxes.

Further long term monitoring of the Dipper population, and extending the nest box scheme, is recommended, to iron out any effect on the results from annual fluctuations, and the Environment Agency is recommended to analyse water sampling results from these river systems for the last 25 years, to ascertain if specific causes of the Dipper decline can be identified.

Local Plants, Butterflies and Wildlife Sites

Though the Group has concentrated on birds so far, it has also carried out survey work on wild flowers and other plants, and on butterflies. This work has grown, and become increasingly important.

Local Plants

Since 2005, counts have been made of Mountain Pansies on Stapeley Hill and at Rigmoreoak on The Stiperstones. In 2009 we started recording 16 different species that are indicators of good habitat, including Mountain Pansy, Harebell and Marsh Violet. The other flowers are Yellow Rattle, Lousewort, Ragged Robin, Butterwort, Bell Heather, Cross-leaved Heath, Bog Asphodel, Bluebell, Wood Anemone, Moschatel, Betony, Devil’s-bit Scabious, Sundew and Eyebright.

Locations where these plants are recorded are listed in the Group’s annual reports. The 2012 Plant Group report can be accessed here.

We have worked closely with the staff at The Stiperstones National Nature Reserve, and helped them monitor Mountain Pansies at Rigmoreoak and the hay meadow at Pennerley. Several smallholders came to our joint events to learn more about managing their own meadows. We also have close links to the Marches Meadow Group (MMG) and contribute to meadow and road verge surveys and volunteering for green hay collection and strewing. MMG can be contacted via the UOWG e-mail UOWG@shropscwgs.org.uk

Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary Butterfly

One of the local strongholds of this rare butterfly is the eastern edge of The Stiperstones, and we have surveyed it twice.

The Marsh Violet is the food plant for this Fritillary, and a new butterfly site was discovered at the southern end of the Stiperstones ridge, where the food plant was found. A Plant Group visit to one notable Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary site revealed good populations of Marsh Violet.

The scarce Grayling butterfly is also found in the area, around The Bog.

Wildlife Sites

We have started locating the richest areas for wildlife in the Upper Onny, and recording their birds, plants and butterflies. We will propose that such areas are adopted as Local Wildlife Sites, if the landowner agrees. This will highlight the importance of the site, and give the landowner a better chance of securing a Countryside Stewardship Agreement with Natural England.

In the years 2014-19 the Plant Group surveyed Local Wildlife Sites (LWS) and potential LWS for the Shropshire Wildlife Trust.

More Information

For information on the 2020 programme of activities, see the Bird Group and Plant Group pages.

How You Can Help

We want to involve more local people, and we intend to extend the number of birds and plants we look for. Enthusiasm and interest in wildlife is more important than expertise. Training is provided for anyone that wants it. We have proved that local people can make a difference, and we can do even more with your support. Please help.

A series of bird and plant walks are organised each year to introduce new people to the fascinating wildlife of our spectacular area. People with knowledge of the wildlife of area are welcome on these walks to share their expertise and impart their enthusiasm.

If you want any further information about these events, or about the Group, or a copy of the Group’s full annual report,  or have information about the species we are looking out for, please contact:


The Upper Onny Wildlife Group received financial support from the Stiperstones & Corndon Hill Country Landscape Partnership Scheme, which is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The lead organisation for the Scheme is the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Partnership, and the Scheme is hosted by Shropshire Council. Please see www.stiperstonesandcorndon.co.uk

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Page updated: 18/02/2020 by RWS