Birdwatch News Archive
A Barn Owl chick being held by a ringer at Hope Farm RSPB in July. Photo: Grahame Madge (rspb-images.com).
The real ghost bird comes back
Posted on: 22 Aug 2012
The RSPB’s Hope Farm in Cambridgeshire is this year celebrating a bumper harvest of a different kind: Barn Owl fledglings.
Barn Owls first nested on the RSPB’s farm in 2009, but 2012 is the first year when two pairs have nested in specially created nesting boxes. Ian Dillon, the farm's manager, said: “Barn Owl has to be one of the public’s most favourite birds and it also appears to be a conservation success story. Since acquiring the farm, we have put in nearly seven km of grassy margins. These six-metre wide strips along the edges of fields create ideal habitat for a range of wildlife, including Field Vole, the main prey of Barn Owl. Many other farmers are taking these actions too, and it’s likely that the Barn Owl is responding well to these measures.”
The achievement at the farm seems to parallel a pattern seen in the Breeding Bird Survey results, which recorded a staggering 390 per cent increase in Barn Owl numbers across Britain between 1995 and 2010. The Breeding Bird Survey is published by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and the RSPB.
According to the latest information from Natural England, farmers using funding for wildlife-friendly farming (aka 'agri-environment schemes') have created 30,718 km of six-metre wide grassy margins, creating over 19,000 miles of potential hunting habitat for Barn Owl in England.
Kate Risely, Breeding Bird Survey national organiser for the BTO, said: “Being largely nocturnal, owls are notoriously difficult birds to monitor accurately through daytime surveys. However, we don't doubt that the results from the survey reflect a genuine increase in the Barn Owl population.” The reported increase in Barn Owls is welcome news, but there are many other birds reliant on farmland that are still facing extreme difficulties, such as Corn Bunting, Skylark and Turtle Dove.
Sue Armstrong-Brown is the head of RSPB conservation policy. She said: “Grass margins are great for Barn Owls, but they’re just one of the actions farmers can take for wildlife as part of agri-environment schemes. Flower-rich margins are vital too, as they are vital for bees, butterflies and other important pollinators.”
Most of our farmland birds need three things: somewhere to nest (in trees and hedges or on the ground), insects to feed their chicks in spring and summer, and seeds to keep them going through the rest of the year.
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