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Hoolets In The Hayshed

When we first came to Lanternside the local expert told us we were too high up to get barn owls but we soon saw them along the roadside at night in areas lying higher than our place. Then two years ago we were approached by National Parks, advised by the same expert, to see if we would agree to having a barn owl nest box installed as they had a successful campaign in hand to increase the population by removing the limiting factor to their expansion, namely the lack of suitable nest sites.

They came with a nest box and it was decided to put it on a tree away from the buildings as we sometimes use rat poison. The box was erected facing away from the prevailing wind, overlooking permanent pasture with an unobstructed flight line. The team returned in the spring to check the box and confirmed that it was home to a pair of jackdaws as we expected. Their excuse was that the box had been put up too late in the season so that barn owls had not had a chance to occupy and defend it.

Next spring when they returned for their inspection we joked that they would again find black owls in the box. They returned to say we were wrong and there were a pair of white jackdaw’s eggs in there. At a second visit we helped them ring a beautiful pair of barn owl chicks, male and female.

Now our hayshed is decorated with barn owl pellets and droppings as they regularly hunt our rats and mice there so we hope there will be no need for poisons this winter. We intend to try another box at the far end of the farm as we think there may be enough territory to support two pairs.

Julian Philipson

The Future of Barn Owls in Britain

In 1935 it was estimated there where 12,000 pairs of breeding Barn Owls in Britain.). A survey in 1987 revealed a further decline to only 5,000 pairs in the whole of the British Isles, of which only 3,000 bred every year, 2,700 breeding sites were identified.

The conclusion is that the population of this beautiful owl has fallen by a staggering 70% in the last 50 years. Changes in weather patterns and farming methods have now been identified as the two most important factors responsible for the Barn Owl’s decline since the 1940’s. The decline has been caused mostly by the reduction in the availability of food, which means the Barn Owls have not been in good enough condition to breed or, if they have, then there has been insufficient prey to feed their young. Severe winter weather in itself does not seem to cause high mortality, but prolonged periods of snow cover limit their ability to find small rodents which are their staple diet. Continuous rain and drought also seriously affect breeding success.

More intensive farming methods (combine harvesters, prairie farming, high levels of livestock and silage-making etc.) have resulted in larger and larger fields, with the consequent loss of hedgerows and field margins – the rough grassland of which was the favourite hunting ground for the Barn Owl. Even where small areas of suitable habitat have been retained, the fragmentary nature of the resulting countryside has isolated small Barn Owl communities and restricted their ability to expand into the surrounding farmland.

Another major killer is road traffic. Between 3,000 and 5,000 Barn Owls are killed in this way every year. There are now believed to be about 2,000 pairs of breeding Barn Owls remaining in Britain and the bird is now nearing the point of no return. Breeding and release programmes, plus the erection of nest boxes is simply holding ground. Only the restoration of rough grassland can save if for posterity.

Taken from the World Owl Trust site