BARN OWLS need help

Below is an extract from the Barn Owl Trust Press Release issued on 18 Dec

Britain’s favourite farmland bird, the Barn Owl, is in serious trouble and for the first time ever, landowners are being asked, to help get them through the winter by providing an artificial food supply. “There are now so few Barn Owls in England that we must pull out all the stops to get them through this winter”, warns the Barn Owl Trust, “this is not a long term solution; it’s an emergency measure”.

“Britain’s Barn Owl population can usually recover from severe winters such as 1947 and 1963” says the Trust, “but 2012 and 2013 have been an unmitigated disaster”.

The Trust claims that this year there were fewer Barn Owls nesting in England than at any time since farming began around 3,000 BC. Reports from Sussex, Lincolnshire, Devon, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Wiltshire and even Cornwall are all telling the same story. The population has crashed. The proportion of sites where Barn Owls have attempted to breed this year is up to 90% down on previous years. One of the most successful schemes run by retired Major Nigel Lewis in Wiltshire usually finds around 310 nests. This year they found only 32. The Shropshire Barn Owl Group which monitors 150 nest boxes and usually finds 45 nests, this year found only two. Britain’s biggest County Barn Owl Survey carried out every 10 years by the Barn Owl Trust in Devon has so far checked 707 sites. “We would normally expect to have found 170 nests by now” said the Trust’s Senior Conservation Officer, David Ramsden “actually we have found only 44 and most have either failed, or produced only a single owlet”.

Supplementary feeding is not a long-term solution to the crisis facing Barn Owls. “What the birds really need is more prey-rich foraging habitat and a few years without extreme weather events” said Ramsden, “we are also extremely concerned that around 30% of all young Barn Owls end up dead on the side of a major road before their first birthday and 84-91% of all Barn Owls contain rat poison”. Numbers are now so low that another severe winter or cold spring could be the last straw.

Anyone who owns a building or a nestbox containing a roosting Barn Owl is urged to keep a small stock of dead day-old poultry chicks in a freezer and be ready to start putting out food as soon as snow or sub-zero temperatures are forecast. “Food items placed outdoors in the open will be taken by scavengers”, said Ramsden, so we have produced a set of simple instructions to follow”. If you are lucky enough to own an occupied roost site please go to www.barnowltrust.org.uk for details.

If you see a Barn Owl dead or alive you can record your sighting please send your sighting to Data Manager