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The Barn Owl Trust

Conserving the Barn Owl and its Environment

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Major roads and Barn Owls

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It is estimated that, in a typical year, Britains' 4,000 pairs of Barn Owls produce roughly 12,000 young and a staggering 3,000 of these are killed on roads. In spite of the fact that over 98% of roads are minor roads, over 90% of all Barn Owl road casualties are found dead on major roads (such as motorways and dual carriageways). Until recently, some people thought that major road deaths were relatively unimportant because, even if they hadn't been killed on a road, many of the road casualties would have died of some other cause. Research by the Barn Owl Trust has now shown that most of the birds that die on major roads have already out-lived most of the birds that die of other causes. In other words, major roads are killing the birds that have survived exposure to other causes of death (such as starvation, minor road traffic, flying into overhead wires etc.) rather than birds that were going to die anyway.

The reason that most major road casualties are young birds is that adult Barn Owls don't normally move out of their home range - as long as their home range has no major road they are most unlikely to die on one. Between August and the end of November, juvenile Barn Owls disperse well beyond their parents' home range and research suggests that when they encounter a major road they are killed very quickly.

Dead Barn Owl road traffic accident

The Barn Owl Trust produced the first report to be published on this subject following fifteen years of data collection and three years of writing-up. Needless to say it's an extremely important subject and one that is too big to discuss fully in a web page.

The important things to be aware of are:

  • Don't encourage Barn Owls to live near major roads
  • Under normal circumstances, nestboxes should not be erected within 1km
  • The further the better but even birds living within 3km of a major road are likely to be killed
  • The best way to make roads safe is to plant high hedges or lines of closely-spaced trees next to the road surface on both sides - forcing birds to fly higher whilst crossing
  • If you see a road casualty and it's safe to stop please do. See the links to the right >

Within its report ‘Barn Owls and Major Roads: results and recommendations from a 15-year research project' the Barn Owl Trust made ten recommendations. These call for changes in government transport policy and changes to the design and management of major road verges.

  • If you are in anyway involved in a new road development - or opposing one - use the Barn Owl Trust findings as evidence and please repeat our recommendations.
  • Somerset County Council have already included appropriate recommendations in their ‘Somerset Highways Biodiversity Action Plan'.
  • We are in discussion with the Highways Agency in connection with proposed changes to the ‘Design Manual for Roads and Bridges'.

There's more information on this topic in the Barn Owl Conservation Handbook

The Barn Owl Trust is dedicated to conservation & education and does not operate a visitor centre.
Barn Owl Trust staff and volunteers
Waterleat, Ashburton, Devon TQ13 7HU
+44 (0) 1364 653026