Barn Owls are beautiful birds and expert hunters, with silent flight. Surveys carried out in Britain and Ireland show that Barn Owl numbers declined by two thirds between the 1930s and the late 1990s, and went down to approximately 4,000 breeding pairs. More recent surveys show an increase to around 8,000 pairs, which is good news but Barn Owls remain on the amber list as birds of moderate conservation concern in Birds of Conservation Concern 3 (2009).
The Conservation Grade Barn Owl Project ran from 2011 to 2015 and was set up to help us measure the benefits of our Fair to Nature farming standards on the environment and its wildlife, using Barn Owls to show if the environment is healthy or not. Barn Owls are one of the peak predators on farmland so their presence indicates that all the other layers of the trophic pyramid (see the diagram on the right) are in place and the whole food web is healthy.
The fact that Barn Owls are not present on some farms in the UK is mainly due to the lack of suitable foraging habitats, but the lack of nest sites is also a contributory factor, which is why we have put new nest boxes up where they were needed.
In 2011 nest boxes were installed on 28 Fair to Nature farms between February and March 2011, just prior to the breeding season for Barn Owls. The number of nest boxes was increased further in 2012 and 2013.
The nest boxes in the project were monitored by licensed specialists when the most chicks are between 4-8 weeks old. The specialists recorded the number of chicks in the nest and weighed them to determine their age. Visits and handling were kept to the minimum avoid disturbing the owls.
Records were made of the species occupying the nest box (it’s not always a Barn Owl!), numbers of eggs and chicks, chick weights, feather lengths and individual ages. Nest box type, condition and general suitability to Barn Owls were also recorded.