The Trust's work - habitat advisory
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The survival of Barn Owls (and therefore the size of the population) is controlled by food supply more than any other factor. Food supply is in turn controlled mainly by the availability of good habitat and the quality of that habitat. Although Barn Owls will forage over various types of vegetation, they will always do better where the habitat is as good as it possibly can be - where small mammals are abundant AND easy to catch. Back in 1989 the first-ever leaflet produced by the Barn Owl Trust was on the subject of habitat and leaflet No. 1 "Habitat Management" is still arguably the most important information we provide.
Nationally most of our habitat advice is given by phone, email, leaflet provision, and via this website. In Devon, Cornwall, and Dorset we meet face-to-face with farmers and landowners during attendance at numerous agricultural shows and farm visits by our conservation staff. We are also consulted by other organisations (such as the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group) in connection with the production of habitat advice. We worked closely with the RSPB in the production of their latest Barn Owl leaflet and with DEFRA in producing the Barn Owl habitat prescriptions for the Government's Higher Level Stewardship grant scheme.
Grassland vs Grazing
In spite of considerable expertise in the conservation sector and generations of accumulated wisdom in the farming community, there is a remarkable lack of knowledge about Barn Owls. There are also some very persistent misconceptions surrounding the species' habitat needs. To some extent this is due to the vocabulary used. Barn Owl enthusiasts use the term "rough grassland" to describe the ultimate vole habitat. The problem is that "rough grassland" means different things to different people so a lot of our advisory work involves clarifying quite basic things such as the difference between rough grassland and rough grazing.
Working with farmers
Where the management of farmland is concerned, farmers know best. Or at least they know their own land better than anyone else and know how best to farm it productively. People who try and tell farmers what to do don't always get a favourable reaction! This is understandable given the numerous policy changes that farmers have witnessed and the often-inexperienced people who are sent to advise them. As a result "conservationists" are not always listened to. Habitat advisory work is often a slow process that requires building relationships with landowners and gradually gaining their respect.
Wildlife friendly farming
Fortunately, the policies that influence farming are becoming more wildlife friendly - agricultural subsidies are now linked to landscape conservation and habitat creation rather than productivity. Also, the quality of the conservation guidance has improved. Rather than telling farmers how they should manage their land, the emphasis is now on describing the end product (the habitat needed) and leaving it up to the farmer to create it as he or she thinks best. Another recent development relates to the amount of habitat that a pair of Barn Owls need. This simple question is one of the hardest to answer but research at the University of York, supported by the Barn Owl Trust, has now quantified the species habitat requirements in various landscape types.
To find out more about Barn Owl habitat: what is meant by "rough grassland" and how to create it; what a "litter-layer" is and why it's so important, the Trust's various research projects etc. simply explore the links to the right or for this and many other topics related to Barn Owl conservation, please see the Barn Owl Conservation Handbook