The Trust's work - protection of occupied sites
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Barn Owl behaviour
Barn Owls are highly faithful to the sites they use for roosting and breeding often occupying the same sites throughout the year. Where Barn Owls disappear from a well used site it's normally because they've died - not because they've moved. Sites that are occupied continuously for many years are not only used by individual resident owls, they are used by successive generations of owls. In fact, where Barn Owls disappear from an area altogether and years later new Barn Owls establish themselves, the sites they choose to use are very often exactly the same sites that the previous residents had occupied. Traditional nest sites not only appeal to individuals but seem to have a "universal" appeal to Barn Owls as a species. Although the reasons why Barn Owls choose the sites they use (and ignore other potential sites) are not fully understood, the protection of these special sites is obviously important.
If the population is to expand, it is essential not only that traditional Barn Owl sites continue to be occupied but that the birds' breeding success is improved, that additional young birds disperse to occupy other sites. There are numerous factors that can cause the loss of occupied sites but fortunately most of these can be prevented by the implementation of protection measures. Steps can also be taken to maximise nesting success and this has been a major part of the Barn Owl Trust's work since 1997 when we created a package of measures to be targeted at all known nest sites.
Knowledge of needs
Simply contacting nest site owners and highlighting the owls' presence can go a long way towards securing their protection. Where the owner has plans to alter the site we advise on timing and incorporation of the owls' needs (for example making provision for owls in a barn conversion). We explain the owls' sensitivity to irregular disturbance and tolerance of regular activities. Food availability largely controls survival and nesting success so we identify patches of good habitat and explain their importance and advise on the creation of additional foraging areas. To minimise the chances of secondary poisoning we advise on alternative methods of rodent control.
As well as advisory work we carry out practical tasks. Very often the owls' nest place is not as safe as it could be - in particular, nests on ledges or in poorly designed nestboxes can result in young falling from the nest prematurely and dying of injury, neglect, or predation. We erect safer (deep) nestboxes. In case anything should happen to the main nest place we make alternative provision with a second nestbox, normally in another nearby building or tree. Steep-sided water troughs close to nests are a particular problem so we make special floats - one for each water tank within 200 metres of the nest to prevent owls from drowning.
The Trust's geographical coverage means it's impossible for us to carry out this type of practical and face-to-face advisory work across the whole of the UK. However much of our time is now spent advising others on the implementation of this type of grass-roots conservation work for which we are so well known.
Detailed information on all the conservation measures we carry out and the advice we give may be found within our information leaflets. The Barn Owl Trust is now the main source of Barn Owl information in Britain and enquiries come in from all over the country.
There is more information on this and many other topics in the Barn Owl Conservation Handbook