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Dorset's Barn Owls Under Threat

Barn owl

6:49am 3rd June 2014

One of Dorset's much loved, nocturnal birds of prey, is in serious danger after their worst breeding season in 30 years.

The barn owl population is falling dramatically after 4 successive years of long winters and wet summers.

Experts say the unusual weather patterns and farming practices are two of the main reasons why owl numbers are falling

Dorset Wildlife Trust Conservation Officer Emily Newton explains how the wet weather affects the birds:

"Barn Owls unfortunately can't hunt when it's raining because of the additional noise the raindrops make when they hit the ground they can't hear their prey. So we've seen lots of starvation and nest sites being abandoned and mortality within the species, it's really bad news for them."

The barn owl was once a common sight in our countryside, but the UK population fell by 70% between the 1930's and the 1980's, with just 4,000 breeding pairs surviving by 2000.

Conservation Officer Emily told us something needs to be done to help the owls before it's too late and is urging us to report any sightings of Barn Owls so they can get a better picture of population numbers:

"We might not be seeing barn owls in a few years' time in Dorset, it would be great to get records of sightings in, so we can assess the situation and do something now and work with landowners and local farmers to try and get their habitat back and then put up nest boxes so there are more places for them to breed."
 
Dorset's Wildlife Trust is hoping to raise £27,000 to give the species a fighting chance, for the future.

Part of their work will include constructing barn owl boxes in suitable habitats, visiting landowners to offer advice about how to manage land to benefit the barn owl, and delivering educational talks and guided walks for schools and communities, to encourage recordings of barn owl sightings, so we can monitor their progress.  

With just a couple of better breeding seasons experts say the population should rise again.

Dorset Wildlife Trust has a breeding pair of barn owls in an owl box at its Lorton Meadows Nature Reserve, which can be watched on its webcam: www.dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk/webcam

To help vulnerable barn owls, information about the project and donations can be made by completing the form online at www.dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk/barnowl

(Thanks to Steve Davis for the picture).

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