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‘Alarming’ decline of barn owls sparks concern among Perthshire landowners

Ben Stevens with Alice Bugden.
Ben Stevens with Alice Bugden.

Recent barn owl deaths have sparked widespread concern among Perthshire land managers over what they believe was the worst winter for the species in more than a decade.

Concerns were raised after barn owls were found dead, having starved due to the challenges of this winter.

Locals estimate at least seven barn owls were found dead in Amulree, in rural Perthshire, alone.

But the real number of deaths will not be known until breeding season, experts say.

Overall decline

Perthshire shepherds and gamekeepers provide food supplies, for owls as many have found shelter in a number of farm barns in the area.

Barn owls have been found starved due to adverse weather.

However, local farmers, shepherds and gamekeepers say they have noticed an “alarming” rise in the number of barn owls having died due to adverse weather over the winter.

Perthshire

Local gamekeeper Ben Stevens, of Amulree, expressed his own fear for a barn own which lived in his barn.

He said: “I have a barn owl living in my barn and I know many shepherds and keepers in the area have similar residents in their barns.

“Sadly, I haven’t seen ours return in the last week, so I fear the weather has taken its toll on the poor bird.”

‘Harsh winter’

Scottish barn owls are at the most northerly extent of their range and – unlike other owls – do not have leg feathers, making them susceptible to weather extremes.

Alice Bugden, coordinator for the Tayside and Central Scotland Moorland Group, said: “I have received multiple pictures of dead Barn Owls from local land managers.

“The birds have sadly perished in this harsh winter, unable to source enough food.

“We will not understand the devastating impact until the coming breeding season.”

Two of the fatalities had tracking rings which showed they had only ranged a few miles.

Farmers

Local farmers have also spoken out over their concerns over the birds’ welfare after  deaths.

One Perthshire farmer’s wife said: “We are saddened to hear the ringed owl we found in our barn only nested at the end of the drive.

“We also found a further two barn owls dead in the barns as well. It is just devastating how badly they have been affected by this winter.

“However, it is no surprise as a lot of animals, including our hill sheep, have struggled.”

It is hoped there will be enough survivors of the species to continue breeding and increase its population in coming years.

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