Threats to the Barn Owl
Of the five species of owl which breed in Britain the Barn owl is becoming much less common generally - and in some places, rare. According to the Barn Owl Trust there are certainly less than 4,000 pairs of barn owls living in the British Isles. This is fewer than half the number resident here just fifty years ago, although great efforts are now being made to protect the species.
The decline of the barn owl and the increasing threat to its future survival can be traced to several causes. Probably the most serious problem for the species is finding a suitable nesting site, as many of the old type barn buildings have been replaced by modern structures which do not offer the same opportunities for nesting. Modern churches too leave a great deal to be desired from the owl's point of view, while the elm tree so favoured by barn owls is itself a threatened species thanks to Dutch Elm disease.
The Barn Owl Trust carries out annual surveys on nests to help get a picture of barn owl populations across the UK. The results can be very variable. 2013 was not a good year for barn owls. Nesting occupancy was 43% below average and brood sizes no higher than normal, but 2014 was a very good year, and the number of nesting pairs was 16% above average. In 2016, however, the number of nesting pairs was down 6% on the all-year average, and the number of young in the nest was down 7%.
Some barn owls are illegally taken and sold to collectors even though the species is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. Egg collectors too are a serious threat. They raid barn owls' nests and steal eggs either for their own collection or to sell to others. The taking of eggs is also against the law.
Many barn owls die each year as a result of swooping low and flying into oncoming traffic and others consume rodents which have eaten poison, which can cause the owl’s embryos to die inside the eggs.
Many farmers have provided owl 'windows' in new barns in an effort to encourage nesting by barn owls. This is the kind of action that will help save the species in Britain, so we can hope that many more farmers and landowners will become involved in the campaign to save the barn owl while there is still time to achieve success.
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