Farming changes hit owl numbers
Article Date: 2009-12-08 Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk
Suffolk, England, U.K. - Changes in farming methods have been blamed for the low rate of survival
among barn owls in Suffolk.
The "set aside" scheme, when farmers were paid to take land out of production,
was abolished by the European Union in 2007.
The previously rough grassland is now ploughed, meaning there are fewer voles
for barn owls to hunt.
Suffolk Wildlife Trust said this meant female owls were not achieving the 340g
(12oz) weight needed to breed.
Hatchlings are also failing to thrive through a lack of food.
'Starve to death'
The trust monitors barn owl boxes in the county, the majority of which are in
the Waveney valley.
"Vole numbers fell at the end of 2008 and by spring 2009 female barn owls were
struggling to gain sufficient weight to be in good enough condition to breed,"
said Steve Piotrowski, from the Suffolk Community Barn Owl Project.
"A total of 236 of the 930 (25%) nest sites monitored showed barn owl activity,
but only about 90 of these produced chicks.
"Many young owls that did fledge were eventually abandoned by their parents and
were left to starve to death and a number were found emaciated."
The trust has asked the NFU to include calls for more rough grassland in its
Campaign for the Farmed Environment.
Farmer David Barker, who chairs the Campaign for the Farmed Environment in
Suffolk, said: "It's important not to jump to conclusions about the reasons why
vole numbers have declined.
"Loss of set-aside may be one factor but there are many others that may be
involved as well, such as the particularly cold winter we experienced.
"Either way, the whole point of the Campaign is to deliver more environmental
benefits than set-aside, by targeting the right measures to the right location
through a voluntary campaign led by the farming industry."
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