The Barn Owl (Tyto alba alba) is the top predator in the food chain on lowland farms in the UK. This means its presence is a natural sign of a healthy, sustainable and varied ecosystem because its food and the food of its prey are in good supply. The absence of Barn Owls can suggest that essential wildlife habitats are missing, along with suitable nest sites.
The use of Barn Owls as an indicator of farmland ‘health’ is highlighted by its inclusion on the UK Government Farmland Bird Index of Sustainable Development and its Public Services Agreement target to reverse the decline by 2020.
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.
Barn Owl numbers have started to increase slightly over the last 20 years, largely because of an increase in the quality and availability of the right environments. This has been encouraged by our farmers who are required to provide tussock and fine grass mixtures on a minimum of 2% of their farmed land. We also recommend that farmers manage such grassland in a way that is suited to Barn Owls.
The disappearance of natural nest sites in old hollow trees and farm buildings means that providing artificial nest sites is a high priority to sustain and increase the numbers of this magnificent bird.