Fears over drop in owl population

SCARBOROUGH’S barn owl population could die out if the recent cold snap returns, a leading conservationist has warned.

Robert Fuller, co-founder of the Wolds Barn Owl Group, said he fears it may be more than a decade for the population to recover if the area around Scarborough is hit by another blast of sub-zero temperatures.

Mr Fuller said: “If we get more of the bad weather we had in November and December it could take 10 to 15 years for the population to recover from this winter alone.

“This would be absolutely tragic.”

Mr Fuller, a wildlife artist who frequently paints barn owls, has already had the distressing task of collecting 24 barn owl carcasses from nest boxes and farm buildings.

Among the casualties have been owls that he has regularly painted and he said their plight had been made worse by the fact their usual prey of mice, voles and shrews had retreated into a network of tunnels under the snow.

He added: “I had grown very fond of these particular birds as I had photographed them and painted them, it was like losing old friends.

“One of the saddest sights I saw was one pair lying dead, the male with its wing protectively across the female.

“Last summer I checked just 25 of the nest boxes and all were occupied, many of them with breeding pairs.

“But when I checked the same boxes last week I found just four live owls.

“It’s absolutely desperate, the precious few owls that survive this bitterly cold winter will be the founders of the next generation and we must do what we can to keep them alive.”