Barn Owl Protection
Barn owls (Tyto alba) were the most common species of owl found within the British countryside. However, in recent years, populations have significantly declined. This is thought to be largely a result of persecution, agricultural intensity, loss of roost and nest sites and an increase in man-made hazards. In 1933 populations were considered to be at 12,000 breeding pairs within the U.K., but more recently their populations lie between 2,830-3,967 during surveys undertaken between 1995-1997. Even though barn owls are considered to be the most widely-distributed land bird in the world, the worrying recent and current declines of the species in Britain highlights the importance of undertaking barn owl assessments when undertaking ecological surveys on potential development sites.
Developers are also required to consider the legislation in regard to barn owls. The species are afforded protection against killing, injury or capture under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). The owl’s nests are also additionally protected against reckless disturbance under Schedule 1 of the same act.
Barn owls can utilise a variety of roost and nest locations including man-made structures such as agricultural, domestic, religious and industrial buildings. The species are also commonly found roosting in natural features such as tree hollows, rock crevices, sea cliffs and occasionally down inactive mineshafts. It is important when visiting sites to consider all features, assess their suitability and to identify any evidence of roosting owls. Barn owls produce white droppings, large pellets which largely consist of small mammal remains and lay between 4-7 matt white eggs.
If roosting barn owl or optimal barn owl foraging habitat is identified on a proposed development site, suitable mitigation measures should be implemented into the development’s plans in order to reduce the likelihood of causing both direct and indirect pressures upon local barn owl populations.
Foraging Habitat Mitigation Measures
The creation of rough, tussocky grassland should be implemented in order to mitigate or compensate against the loss of barn owl foraging habitat. This type of grassland provides an optimal habitat for barn owls main prey, field voles (Microtus agrestis), alongside wood mice (Apodemus sylvaticus) and common shrews (Sorex araneus). Suitable barn owl grassland can be created by not cutting or grazing areas of grassland put aside for barn owls. The dead vegetation produced in autumn should be left in-situ and not removed, in order to produce a dense understorey of leaf litter which encourages rodent use. The grassland should however not be left to succeed into scrub and then ultimately into woodland.
Roost and Nest Mitigation
Barn owl artificial roosting and nesting boxes should be positioned alongside suitable rough grassland habitats. They should not be erected in close proximity to busy roads, areas knowingly treated with rodenticide bait or lambing sheds (which can be subject to high levels of disturbance at infrequent times of the year). The best time of the year to erect a barn owl box is between November-January when there is very little chance that birds will be nesting. It is essential to ensure the roost box is not occupied by any birds and no eggs are present when an existing roost box needs replacing. If the existing box is in poor condition and requires essential repairs or removal the box should also be removed in November/December.
The box should be positioned in areas which are clearly visible to barn owls. Box entrances should face or be in close proximity to potential barn owl foraging habitats and clear of any hanging vegetation or man-made barriers.
Barn Owl Survey
Barn owl survey may be requested in relation to planning applications to re-develop buildings located in rural surroundings. A barn owl survey involves an initial desk study to obtain records of barn owls and/or nest sites for the surrounding area followed by a site visit to identify evidence of barn owl roosting or nesting, such as live or dead owls, feathers, droppings, pellets, nest debris and eggs. This will then allow an assessment to be made regarding the type and level of use of the site by barn owls. Where barn owl nest and/or roost sites are being redeveloped or destroyed, alternative nesting or roosting provision has to be provided. (Visit our Survey Calendar for suitable times for your survey to be conducted.)
Barn Owl Survey Season
For more information on suitable times for badger survey visit our Survey Calendar.
The Ecology Partnership Can Help
The Ecology Partnership have licensed barn owl surveyors who will be able to undertake surveys and monitor owl boxes as well as advise on how developments can incorporate new opportunities for barn owls.
To discuss your barn owl survey requirements, please call us on 01372 364 133, email us or use our enquiry form below.
For more protected species survey services click here.