Conservationists say that there are now fewer than 1,000 breeding pairs of barn owls left in the UK after four years of extreme weather such as freezing winters and wet summers. Thousands of the birds have died, and according to The Guardian 2013 is set to be among the worst years for the nation’s farmland bird, as the population has decreased by a staggering 75 percent.

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Generally, the UK has around 4,000 breeding pairs of barn owls, but over the past several years numbers have massively declined with the bird population now “facing a “catastrophe.”

“They have gone from scarce to rare,” said David Ramsden, head of conservation at the Barn Owl Trust speaking to The Guardian. “The scale of the decline is not normal.” He also added that the occupancy of nest sites has been between 5 percent and 15 percent of previous levels.

Extreme weather that has blighted the UK over the past several years is said to be the main cause of this unusual population decline. According to research, “the cold winters of 2009/2010 and 2010/2011 had a devastating effect on the species, and the wet June of 2012 killed many nesting owls. March this year was the second-coldest on record, and led to a high mortality rate in adult barn owls.”

“It’s been a catastrophic year,” Ramsden added. “Barn owls now need all the help they can get. It will take at least two years for the barn owl population to start to recover – providing that we don’t have any more extreme weather events.”

Weather is not the only threat that the owls face. The HS2 railway line would also “result in the loss of all breeding populations of barn owls within 1.5km of the proposed scheme”. On top of that, widespread use of pesticides has seen 91 percent of barn owl bodies recovered to contain rat poison.

Via The Guardian

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