By: Jeff Martin and Kevin Baker
288 pages, line drawings, figs, tabs
The ghostly silent flight of the barn owl is magical; in the past feared for its piercing cry, and persecuted by gamekeepers, the 'white owl' is now one of Britain's favourite birds. This book charts the changes in British farming and countryside and shows how they affected the fortunes of the barn owl, which once was a common bird. Even as late as 1936 a barn owl was seen flying over the Strand in London.
But by this time, there was concern about the dwindling numbers of barn owls. The first survey, in 1932, concluded there were 12,000 breeding pairs in England and Wales, and that a decline had taken place due to diminution of the food supply, a 'cleaner' environment and the use of poisons. By 1987 modern farming techniques, including lack of hedgerows, loss of barns, increase of arable farming, had brought about a dramatic decrease, and the 2nd barn owl survey concluded there were only 4,148 breeding pairs in England, Wales and Scotland. The barn owl is now protected under Part 1, schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981; schemes of releasing them into the countryside to build up numbers were misguided and mostly failed; measures to try to help them now include the erection of nest boxes.
Jeff Martin propounds theories as to why the decline has happened, and attempts to peer into the future to see how changes in population, agriculture and the coastal footprint will affect barn owls. To understand the reasons why the barn owl is finding modern life difficult, you must be familiar with its nesting habits and preferred diet; these subjects are fully discussed by the author, as well as other aspects of its life: courtship, mating, breeding, rearing young, hunting, movements.
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