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The Barn Owl Trust

Conserving the Barn Owl and its Environment

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Barn Owl habitat requirements in pastoral landscapes

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Pastoral landscapes are areas where more than 50% of the farmed land is grassland. Pastoral landscapes are predominately found on the western side of Britain. If you live in an area with more than 50% of the farmed land dominated by arable or horticultural practises click on the arable link opposite. If the land has both pastoral and arable farming then click on the mixed link opposite.


Research has shown that British Barn Owls prefer to hunt rough grassland rather than any ordinary pasture/grassland. Pastoral areas are almost always dominated by intensively grazed grass and areas that are mown annually for silage or haymaking. Grazing by livestock usually keeps the sward too short for the Barn Owls main prey ( the field vole) and mowing prevents the establishment of a litter-layer. The margins found in pastoral areas are generally grazed right to the field edge, leaving few opportunities for Barn Owls hunting for their prey. Therefore, within pastoral farmed land, the best rough grass margins are often those that are fenced-off from grazing (such as young tree plantations) or areas that are too steep or wet to manage intensively. Further, within pastoral landscapes, pockets of arable farming, with their associated ungrazed grassy margins - along field and ditch-edge - often provide the best hunting opportunities for Barn Owls.


Characteristics of suitable rough grassland
Grassy field margins for Barn Owls need to be rough grassland and should have a sward (grass) height of at least 20 cm. To achieve this they should only be topped infrequently - every second or third year is ample (one year in five in the case of Stewardship agreements). It is very important to allow the build-up of a good litter-layer (at least 7cm deep) at the base of the sward as this provides the cover field voles need. If you are sowing new grassy margins, try using a mix of tall grass species (e.g. Cock's foot, Dactylis glomerata, Timothy, Phleum pratense and Tufted hairgrass, Deschampsia caespitosa) and softer, more recumbent species (e.g. Agrostis spp., Festuca spp. and Holcus spp.). For advice on creating and managing grasslands for Barn Owls - including litter-layer pictures - follow the links opposite.

There's more information on foraging habitat - creation and management in the Barn Owl Conservation Handbook


How much habitat do Barn Owls need in pastoral landscapes?
Research funded by BOT has produced the best estimates of the quantity of rough grass habitat required by British Barn Owls in different landscape types. In pastoral landscapes, we estimate that Barn Owls require about 78 km of rough grass field margin within 2 km of a suitable nest site. Research has also shown that field voles require the margins to be greater than 4 metres wide, and ideally around 6 metres wide. Barn Owls also hunt more efficiently along wide margins. We therefore estimate that Barn Owls in pastoral landscapes require between 31 and 47 ha of rough grassland within 2 km of a nest site. However, to support a viable breeding population of Barn Owls over a wider area, land beyond 2 km radius also needs to be suitable. We estimate that in a pastoral region between 2.5 and 3.7% of the total land area needs to be rough grassland. Perhaps by working with your neighbours you can make Barn Owls a common sight in your area?

Note: the Barn Owl habitat requirements and grant schemes referred to in this page are only applicable to the UK. The situation is different in mainland Europe and other areas.


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