With numbers having declined alarmingly due to loss of suitable hunting and foraging habitat, Ulster Wildlife is urging farmers to take action to safeguard the farmland bird’s future, as fewer than 30 breeding pairs are now estimated to be left.
Katy Bell, Senior Conservation Officer at the charity, explains, “This has been a challenging year for our threatened barn owls. The cold spring snap followed by the heatwave and heavy downpours is a killer combination for the birds as they are not adapted for unpredictable weather, which makes breeding and survival much more difficult. Sadly, these conditions may become more frequent given the effects of climate change, as highlighted in this week's IPCC report.
“Barn owls need our help now, more than ever if we want to ensure their long-term future, and farmers and landowners, as custodians of our countryside, play a key role in helping them thrive. By working together, we can help protect precious nest sites, monitor these beautiful birds, and provide help and advice on owl-friendly farming.”
Barn owls need our help now, more than ever if we want to ensure their long-term future, and farmers and landowners, as custodians of our countryside, play a key role in helping them thrive.
Often dubbed the ‘farmer’s friend’ for its reputation for eating rodents and providing free pest control, barn owls rely on a healthy population of wood mice, young rats and pygmy shrews to feed on and sustain their chicks. The charity is encouraging farmers to help increase the bird’s food supply by providing rough grassland margins, leaving wild corners untouched, and reducing rodenticide use by following the CRRU (Campaign for Responsible Rodenticide Use) code of practices.
David Sandford, a farmer from Co. Down and previous Chairman of the Nature-Friendly Farming Network NI, who has been welcoming barn owls for a number of years, said, “Any farmer who is privileged enough to have barn owls on their farm will marvel as to how they hunt in the late evenings, flying totally silently along the field edges listening for rodents. They can also be proud of the biodiversity on their farm that supports this sadly now rare iconic species. Barn owls love many of the farm habitats such as 6m rough grass margins, that are financially supported by DAERA under the Environmental Farming Scheme.”