The Barn Owl Trust has just released a report on the on the State of the UK Barn Owl population – 2013 and unfortunately it does not make for good reading. Once common across the UK, barn owls are magnificent predators, hunting from the air and feeding mainly on small mammals like voles, shrews and mice. UK barn owl numbers steadily decreased from the middle 1800s until the late 1980s – primarily due to changes in farming practice – but are thought to have be on the up throughout most of the 1990s and early 2000s. The last few years, however, have not been kind.
What has been happening over the past few years? Well, there are a lot of factors that affect the barn owl population, but it looks like the big problem recently has been the weather. Starting with the winter of 2009-2010, the UK has been suffering from very cold winters and wet summers which have made it difficult for barn owls to breed successfully and also reduced the amount of small mammals, meaning less food for the owls. After a slight improvement in 2012, the extremely cold March of 2013 hit the barn owls particularly hard – some people think that the UK barn owl population is now lower than it has ever been, particularly in southern England.
So, what can we do to help?
We can’t control the weather in the short term, but we can do other things to help the barn owls recover. The Barn Owl Trust has a 10 point plan for encouraging barn owls by doing things such as providing nest boxes (a tactic that has proved very successful). If you don’t live in an area where you can encourage barn owls directly you can still help by buying from wildlife friendly farmers, making your voice heard about the use of damaging pesticides and fighting climate change to help minimise extreme weather in the future (why not try our free energy activity to give you some ideas).
Another way to help is by increasing the amount of information we have about barn owls in the UK. The more information we have, the easier it is to develop new ways to help. The Barn Owl Survey website is a great way to record any evidence you have of barn owls in your area, be that spotting their pellets, seeing the creatures themselves or hearing their distinctive screech.
Related post: ‘Protecting Birds of Prey’ by Linda Seward.