Suffolk: Highest recorded number of barn owls in county
THE barn owl population in Suffolk is at its highest recorded level, the East Anglian Daily Times can reveal.
Wildlife bosses say they have seen the numbers of the endangered species quadruple in four years – going from 108 breeding pairs in 2007 to 427 last year.
An initiative to install nest boxes across the county by the Suffolk Community Barn Owl Project – a partnership project between Suffolk Wildlife Trust and Suffolk Ornithologists Group – is thought to be one of the main factors behind the population boom.
Steve Piotrowski, bird adviser for Suffolk Wildlife Trust, said the project had been a “phemenomal success” after Suffolk had come perilously close to losing its barn owls– in 2005 numbers dipped to between 50 and 80 breeding pairs.
He added: “Not in my wildest dreams would I have thought the results would be so good. I also underestimated how taken farmers and the general public are with barn owls and the enthusiasm they have put into this project.”
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The population level is now higher than in 1932 when the first barn owl survey was carried out and when it was reported that there were 350 breeding pairs in Suffolk.
Mr Piotrowski said the birds had recently struggled due to a lack of nesting opportunities. About 70% of Suffolk’s barn owls live in hollow trees but many had been lost due to Dutch Elm disease or removed by farms because they overshadowed crops.
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He added: “The construction of barns in Suffolk is also not as good for owls as they are in the west country, where they are stone built. Suffolk ones are usually wooden walled, with a thatched or tiled roof and very few nooks and crannies for them to nest.”
The owl box programme saw 1,418 boxes checked last year, compared to 605 in 2007.
But Mr Piotrowski said there were a further 100 boxes planned for west Suffolk where the barn owl population is still not as dense as north east Suffolk and coastal areas of the county.
He added: “We’re running a community programme at the moment where we’re giving away free barn owl boxes and fixing them for community projects, for village greens and places like that.”
Despite the success of the project Mr Piotrowski said barn owls are not out of the woods as freezing temperatures cause the number of short-toed voles – a main element of their diet – to drop.
For more information on barn owls, including getting a box installed or reporting a sighting, visit www.suffolkwildlifetrust.org