Warmer world is good for the owls
Article Date: 2007-05-08 Source: http://icnewcastle.icnetwork.co.uk
By Tony Henderson
Keilder, Northumberland, England, U.K. - Forty years of studying wildlife have convinced top North-East naturalist Brian Little that global warming is here - and is accelerating fast.
Brian, from Blaydon in Gateshead, has plotted the fortunes of birds of prey in
the Kielder area of Northumberland and since 1980 has been involved in a special
study of tawny owls.
Tawnys are prospering at Kielder with 105 breeding pairs. The barn owl
population in the North Tyne is at its highest for over 30 years, up from two
breeding pairs a decade ago to 25 last summer.
Nest box provision in Kielder Forest has helped, but one of the main reasons for
the owl boom is the lack of snow cover in recent years.
"Ten or 20 years ago, the whole of the North Tyne would have winter snow cover for several weeks and now we don't get more than a day or two," said 71-year-old Brian.
The snow cover of the past protected the chief prey of the owls, the field vole.
"The snow also kept the rough grasses which the voles eat in pristine, chilled condition," said Brian. "But now the voles aren't getting the breather they used to."
This is good news for the owls and other vole predators like kestrels, buzzards,
foxes, stoats and weasels, but a bad deal for the animal on everyone's hit list.
"The worst scenario is what happens if the vole population gets hammered.
Predators like the owls are vulnerable if the wheels come off," said Brian.
"These animals are being affected by climate change and at the moment the owls are benefiting. But it is absolutely clear cut that warming is happening, and there will be real problems.
"It is also happening much quicker than most scientists believed. It is
happening incredibly quickly and I have watched flowers, insects and butterflies
getting earlier and earlier, with Bird Cherry blooming in April instead of May,
while this year I have never seen hawthorn bloom so early in the North Tyne." Brian has also made six trips to the Arctic and Antarctica. "I have seen at first hand what is happening to the planet. What was under many feet of snow 20 years ago is now bare rock."
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