With its distinctive “moon” face glowing white, a pale underside and light brown wings the Barn Owl is an unforgettable sight for anyone lucky enough to spot one. While widely distributed through the UK countryside, sadly it suffered serious declines in its numbers through the 20th and early 21st centuries. Causes of this decline are thought to include habitat destruction, the poisoning of its prey (mainly small mammals such as voles) through our increased use of rodenticides, and the conversion of many of its potential nesting sites, barns and other agricultural buildings, into houses.
To make matters worse for this emblematic owl, the recent perishing cold winter and cold spring has had a serious impact. According to the Barn Owl Trust, the bad weather in March resulted in unusually high Barn Owl mortality. In the second half of the month, two and a half times more than the usual number of dead Barn Owls were recorded. It is possible that the cold spring weather supressed small mammal activity, resulting in less food being available to Barn Owls and increased rates of starvation.
Much of the semi-natural grassland area we look after at Teifi Marshes offers excellent hunting ground for Barn Owls, and happily the species has been well recorded at the reserve over recent years. Through generous funding from Biffa Award, we have been able to start a project aimed at providing additional nesting opportunities for Barn Owls at the reserve. We are installing a number of specially constructed nesting boxes, which will provide secure predator free breeding opportunities. Nest boxes will be installed inside a suitable building and on mature trees overlooking ideal hunting habitat. It is hoped that this project, together with continued sensitive management of our grassland areas, will increase the breeding Barn Owl population at the reserve and in the wider Cilgerran area.
The creation and management of suitable habitat (largely long tussocky grassland) is the most important single thing which can be done to assist Barn Owl conservation. We would be delighted to provide advice to any landowners interested in seeing what they can do to help conserve this fantastic emblem of our living countryside.