Barn Owl may become extinct




The Barn Owl could become extinct, according to founder of The World Owl Trust.

An icon of British wildlife and folklore, the Barn Owl

An icon of British wildlife and folklore, the Barn Owl. Pic World Owl Trust

Tony Warburton MBE, the Founder and Honorary President of the World Owl Trust,  warns that in his opinion, Britain’s population of Barn Owls is actually on the brink of collapse.

Although there have been some claims that this charismatic species is recovering from a disastrous 150-year long decline, he says the real truth is being masked by localised successes brought about by the sterling efforts of Barn Owl enthusiasts and organisations to provide nest boxes for the bird.

The World Owl Trust is based at Muncaster Castle in West Cumbria.

Mr Warburton says that “80 years ago there were approximately 12,000 breeding pairs in England and Wales.

By 1985 this had dropped by an estimated 69%, but this fall then plummeted even more alarmingly when, between 1995–1997, a computer derived survey produced an estimate of approximately 4,000 pairs.

This figure is still being widely quoted as factual, despite the survey having taken place 13 -15 years ago. However, the fact is, nobody really knows how many actual breeding pairs are left, but if this last survey proves to be accurate, the figures indicate that this iconic bird is virtually at the point of no return unless urgent action is taken”, Tony warns.

He adds:  “Nobody really knows how many actual breeding pairs are left, but my fear is that this iconic bird is virtually at the point of no return unless urgent action is taken.”

Mr Warburton has been studying Barn Owls in the British countryside for over 45 years.

Why the decline in Barn Owl numbers ?

Mr Warburton thinks that Barn Owl numbers are in decline due to an on-going reduction in areas of traditional rough grassland. These support the field vole populations, which form the Barn Owls’ main prey species.

This means there are no longer adequate food supplies within easy reach of many nest sites, and because of the continual loss of contiguous territories and the isolation of those which do still exist, there are few viable new areas for young owls to move into once they leave their nests.

Many Barn Owls are now trying to survive in what amount to ‘habitat islands’ in a food desert with no connectivity with other pairs.  This inevitably leads to inbreeding, a key factor in the “slippery slope to extinction” .

On any journey by foot, bike, car or train, look to see how much uncultivated, ungrazed, unmown rough grassland you can spot.  You will be in for a shock because it has virtually all gone!

To increase a population of any species, productivity needs to exceed mortality, and with the Barn Owl this aspect is getting worse, not better.

Nest boxes and food

Most conservation initiatives for the species to date have been centred on nest box provision to counteract the loss of natural nest sites. The result is that most Barn Owls now nest in man-made boxes rather than natural sites such as hollow trees and old stone buildings.

However, restoring good hunting habitat is essential before any nest box scheme should be contemplated, for even a million nest boxes cannot save Barn Owls if there is no food available to them”.

Learn more about the Barn Owl

To learn more about how you can help and to obtain free information sheets  – go onto the World Owl Trust website .

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