Volunteers are sought for major new survey of barn owls in Westcountry
Major surveys are to be undertaken to establish the number and distribution of barn owls in Cornwall and Devon.
The Ashburton-based Barn Owl Trust, which conducts the surveys, will be looking for volunteers to come and see them on their stand at the Royal Cornwall Show in June.
The Devon survey will start mid-summer 2013 and the Cornwall survey in 2014.
The surveys are conducted every ten years and provide the trust with vital information about the birds.
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All known roosting and nesting sites are checked and the information gathered.
Fresh sightings and reports from various sources are also collated and the information is used to determine barn owl distribution, arrive at a population estimate and identify sites in need of protection.
Hannah Bosence of the trust said that the two previous surveys showed that the population distribution had remained largely static but overall, numbers had increased.
"We hope that the surveys in 2013 and 2014 will show further increases in numbers. This is largely dependent on food availability, adult survival rates and suitable nesting sites which we monitor and try to safeguard.
The help we get from volunteers and the co-operation and involvement of land owners and managers is invaluable in this," she said.
While natural sites in hollow trees and farm buildings are declining, the number of nestboxes is on the increase.
"There are now more nestboxes available to the birds than natural sites. The trust installs nestboxes in cases of high priority – which to us means where breeding barn owls are using sites that are not safe."
The trust also sells ready-made nestboxes and gives out design instructions for people who are willing and able to build their own.
"Getting our message across at the Royal Cornwall Show is very important because our stand at the county shows is our main public face. We don't often get to talk to the public in such numbers.
"We generally get a very positive reaction from visitors but occasionally meet people who are worried that talking about a nest or roost might bring unwanted attention to the site.
"We like to think we can settle people's fears, discuss the issues and provide information to help," said Hannah.
The trust is seeking volunteer interviewers and searchers, who will work alongside the survey officer. Candidates must be physically fit.
"We want to hear from anyone with an interest and with good people skills; people who are willing to get out there and chat with members of the public"
Barn owls have become known as flagships for a healthy countryside. Presence of these birds suggests a well-supported ecosystem.
As land management and farming practices have changed over the years, barn owl numbers have dropped. A reduction in hunting habitat a lack of natural and farm-based nesting and roosting sites and road kills have all led to a drop in numbers. The South West is the most intensively-surveyed part of the country for barn owl populations.