Barn Owls thriving on nature-friendly farms despite worst year for wildlife

Vern the Barn Owl.
Vern the Barn Owl.
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After one of the worst ever years for British wildlife, the Barn Owls population has bucked the trend by increasing on nature-friendly farms.

An ongoing Conservation Grade research project, run in conjunction with the Barn Owl Conservation Network (BOCN), saw Barn Owls occupying an unprecedented four-fifths of nest boxes on participating Conservation Grade farms last year. Over two thirds of the nesting birds bred, producing on average almost two and a half offspring for each pair.

With Conservation Grade farms growing commercial crops alongside specific wildlife habitats, Colin Shawyer, head of the BOCN, said the results were largely down to rich feeding habitats and because birds have been able to nest near their food supply.

Mr Shawyer said the overall national picture for 2012 is expected to show the numbers of Barn Owl chicks surviving to adulthood will have been slashed by two thirds due to some appalling weather, which will have prevented them feeding their chicks and that this was why the results of Conservation Grade farms is so rewarding.

“Having the right habitats to support the birds’ prey is critical to their survival, but as Barn Owls are quite ‘sedentary’ and like hunting close to home, it’s also important to have the nesting site and feeding site within easy reach,” he said.

“With such a high occupancy rate in these boxes, the indications are that - weather permitting in 2013 - breeding numbers will continue to increase above existing levels, which are already among some of the best in the country.”

Some 140 boxes over 77 potential Barn Owl territories on Conservation Grade farms across England are being monitored.