Britain’s barn owls are under threat due to extreme weather, conservationists have warned. A run of cold, wet springs has led to one of the worst breeding seasons in three decades, spelling serious trouble for an already fragile population. Between 1932 and 1980 the barn owl population was thought to have declined by 70 per cent as traditional nesting site,s such as mature trees and agricultural buildings, were lost. Their numbers have been steadily increasing since the 1980s, but this latest setback could be devastating.
The Barn Owl Trust says that monitoring of the sites where birds have managed to breed reveals an average of two owlets compared with the four or five needed for population recovery. Of 73 sites monitored annually by the trust in Devon, only 12 per cent had nests, compared with an average of 51 per cent previously. The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) recorded a 280 per cent increase in reports of dead birds at the start of the breeding season in March. Many had starved.
Jeff Baker of the BTO said: “They can certainly sustain one or two years of a poor breeding performance, but we don’t want another very cold spring, or very wet one.”