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Barn Owl habitat requirements in mixed landscapes
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Research has shown that British Barn Owls prefer to hunt for field voles within rough grassland areas. Within mixed farming landscapes, field voles are often found in rough grassy margins alongside arable and horticultural fields (click on arable link opposite for more). Where pasture dominates, vole-rich grassy areas that are protected against grazing, perhaps along woodland-edges or in young tree plantations, provide the best hunting opportunities for Barn Owls (click on pastoral link opposite for more).
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 UK 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. Bents, Agrostis spp., Fescues, Festuca spp. and Yorkshire fog, Holcus lanatus.). 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 mixed landscapes? Research funded by BOT has produced the best estimates of the quantity of habitat required by British Barn Owls in different landscape types. In mixed landscapes, we estimate that Barn Owls require about 43 km of grassy margin within 2 km of a suitable nest site. Research has also shown that field voles require grassy margins to be greater than 4 m, and ideally around 6 m wide. Barn Owls also hunt most efficiently along 6 m wide margins. We therefore estimate that Barn Owls in mixed landscapes require between 17 and 26 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 between 1.4 and 2.0% of the total land area in mixed landscapes needs to be rough grassland. Perhaps by working with your neighbours you can make Barn Owls a common sight in your area?