The city of Kishiwada, in southern Osaka Prefecture, is planting trees and attracting Ural owls back to a forest that was ravaged by an urban development project during the 1980s.

“We believe owls are at the top of the forest ecosystem,” said Takashi Matsushita, a Kishiwada government official in charge of the reforestation project. “If we aim to create an environment friendly to owls, we can expect a rich natural environment to also recover.”

The population of owls has declined across Japan because forests have either disappeared or been shrunken by logging for housing and other projects.

The Osaka Prefectural Government has added the nocturnal bird to its list of endangered species. The adult owls eat about 1,000 rats a year and are also fond of insects. Abundant trees, small animals and insects are vital to their survival.

In and around the town of Sangayama, in eastern Kishiwada, there are woods and vacant sites that used to be farmland. In the 1980s, the area became the Kishiwada urban development project for corporate research centers and residential complexes.

The project stalled after being hit by an economic slump and the land was donated to the city by a major construction company that had acquired the site during the bubble economy.

The land was neglected for some 30 years, allowing bamboo to crowd out other trees, such as beech and oak.

In 2011, however, the possibility that an owl was living in the woods offered a ray of hope for recovery.

A city official heard an owl calling during an inspection of the forest, and a nest of owls was soon found. That promoted the launch of the Owl Forest Restoration Project.

The city government has cut down bamboo in the forest with local residents in a bid to restore its diversity and protect the nests of birds and the habitats of small animals.

It then began to plant nursery stocks of sawtooth oaks and clean up farmland that had been left untouched for years.

Following the start of the project, the city government has learned that owl chicks are hatched in the forest every year, although it has failed to confirm exactly how many owls are living there.

“Several years of forestation will not be enough to restore the forest. We need a longer period of time for our efforts,” Matsushita said.

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