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Habitat for barn owls

Hawthorn scrub

Image: Andy Hay

Barn owls require rough grassland with good populations of rodents especially voles. Field edges, the edges of watercourses and grass strips alongside woods provide ideal hunting habitat. 

Recent studies suggest that a pair of owls require about 20-25 km of edge, with several suitable roosting sites, although this will vary in different parts of the country.

Non-rotational set-aside in 20-metre strips around fields can provide valuable hunting areas for barn owls. The strips can be sown with tussock forming grasses such as Yorkshire fog and cocksfoot. This creates a deep litter layer excellent for voles. Management in the form of topping should be carried out with the mower at its maximum height. Under set-aside rules non-rotational set-aside should be cut between 15 July and 15 August. It is best to cut as late as possible. Up to 25% can be left uncut in any one year, however, and is best rotated near hedges or boundaries.

Retain grassy headlands, unused field corners and grassy edges to fields, especially along hedges and ditches. Provide or retain fence posts as hunting perches. Do not cut grass too closely, too frequently or more than required for access: retain long grass at the sides and tussocks etc, as cover for voles. Grass margins (2-6 metres wide the wider the margin the better) can be created using tussock-forming grasses. These can be used to link existing hunting areas and can be managed in a similar way to set-aside.

Grants and incentives to assist in creating and maintaining habitats may be available under agri-environment schemes run by agriculture departments in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Bird guide