Lough Neagh Wetlands Barn Owl Tyto alba Species Action Plan




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Lough Neagh Wetlands



Barn Owl

Tyto alba
Species Action Plan

2008 - 2013

Barn Owl in the Lough Neagh Wetlands
Introduction

The barn owl Tyto alba is an instantly recognizable white owl and is characteristic of lowland mixed farmland where it feeds on small mammals found in rough grassland along field margins, roadways, riverbanks, woodland edge and around farm buildings.


It is resident in Ireland and generally found on lowland farmland which exists throughout the Lough Neagh Wetlands. It nests inside used and disused buildings, mature hollow trees and rock crevices. It also will use nestboxes. In Northern Ireland, its diet consists mainly of mice, shrews and young rats. They will take frogs when available, as well as small birds and will occasionally supplement their diet in winter with large beetles.
The barn owl is one of the most widely distributed land birds in the world. In Northern Ireland it is on the northern edge of its global range. It was once relatively common in the lowland agricultural habitats of the Lough Neagh Wetlands. However, since the 1930s it has been in serious decline across Britain and Ireland. It is thought that the population has more than halved in Northern Ireland with a decline of 69% experienced between 1932 and 1985. It was estimated that there were less than 50 pairs in Northern Ireland in 1985 from an estimate of 250 pairs in 1932. Today the Northern Ireland population remains very low and is estimated to be between 45 - 65 pairs. The population remains fragile and fragmented.
Background

Across Northern Ireland, estimates include 10 - 15 pairs in county Derry, 10 - 15 pairs in county Down, 10 pairs in county Antrim, 10 - 15 pairs in counties Tyrone/Fermanagh, and 5 - 10 pairs in county Armagh.


In the Lough Neagh Wetlands, records of sightings have been used to identify population ‘hot spots’ where the creation and management of feeding and breeding habitats should be targeted. A significant proportion of the Northern Ireland population may occur within the Lough Neagh Wetland but the number of birds is unknown and the species is generally very difficult to monitor. The population is believed to be thin and fragmented. Single and multiple records exist that highlight potentially important areas within the Lough Neagh Wetlands for the period between 1983 and 2006. In the northern half of the Wetlands these include the Castledawson area, the Bellaghy area, the grasslands around Lough Beg, the Toome area, and the area around Masserene Golf Course and Shanes Castle, Antrim. To the east of the Wetlands are the areas around Aghalee, Portmore Lough, Gawleys Gate, Glenavy area, and Langford Lodge; and in the south, these include Peatlands Park, the area around Junctions 11 & 12 along the M1 Motorway, the Oxford Island area and Ardmore Point.

Other areas that have had irregular records and may contain birds include the Traad Point area in the North West; the Ardboe area in the west; the Washing Bay area in south west and the Tannaghmore area in the South.


There can be some confusion between barn owls and other owls found in the wild in the Lough Neagh Wetlands. This can result in inaccurate reports of birds.It is therefore important to highlight the differences and provide advice about barn owl identification. There are two other species of owl in the Lough Neagh Wetlands with which barn owl can often be confused.

Long-eared owl is the most numerous and most sightings of owl in the Lough Neagh Wetlands are likely to be this species. Long-eared owls are resident in Ireland and live in wooded areas, although they frequently hunt over open ground in early evening. The long-eared owl is medium-sized owl, smaller in size than a woodpigeon. It is buff-brown with darker brown streaks, and deep orange eyes.

Short-eared owls are much rarer, medium sized owls with mottled brown bodies, pale under-wings and yellow eyes. Their pale appearance due to the pale underwing can be confused with barn owl, which is much paler overall. Short-eared owls are winter visitors from Scandinavia and Iceland and can be seen hunting over marshes and wetlands during the day.


Threats

Loss of feeding habitat

Loss of rough grassland field margins alongside rivers, woodland and around field edges.


Switch from hay to silage and loss of mixed farming, hedgerows and field headlands.
Low food availability caused by poor habitat or flooding. Flooding can result in the drowning of large communities of small mammals.
Loss of nesting & roosting sites

Loss of nest/roost sites linked to the demolition of old farm buildings and barn conversions, and due to people blocking entrances to church towers, barns and other buildings


Loss of mature farmland trees, leading to a reduced availability of large tree cavities and the loss of long-established nest sites.
Poisons

Widespread use of second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides. Difenacoum, bromadiolone, flocoumafen and brodifacoum are of particular concern. Research has shown that a significant proportion of barn owls contain measurable levels of these rodenticides in their tissues, having risen from 5% of the population in 1983-4 to 38% in 1995-6. Barn owls either die slowly, or survive and carry a residue in their bodies. Typically, it takes 6-17 days for a barn owl to die after eating three mice containing Brodifacoum.


Population fragmentation

Fragmentation of the local population occurs where there is a distinct lack of continuous habitats corridors to link these populations up.


Low productivity

Low productivity resulting from an already small population size and the fact that birds have an average life span of just 5 years.




Adverse weather conditions

Annual fluctuations in the weather related to incidence of prolonged rain or snow, preventing birds from hunting, forcing birds to hunt around buildings where they are more susceptible to picking up poison prey


Roads

A number of birds are killed annually on the roads. This may represent a significant toll on the breeding population in some areas. Dangerous areas include sites where roads cross river valleys and areas where birds cross to follow linear habitats. Road deaths may be an important factor in limiting the population and may account for the absence of barn owls in localized areas of otherwise favorable habitat.


Farmland water troughs can provide convenient bathing sites for barn owls. However, if the birds fall in, their soft plumage water-logs and this can lead to drowning.

Opportunities
Identify hotspots

Use records of sightings to identify population ‘hot spots’ within the Lough Neagh Wetlands, so that the creation and management of feeding and breeding habitats can be targeted.


Habitat creation

Link areas of unimproved grassland on a landscape scale, using a series of rough grass field margins alongside rivers, woodlands and hedgerows, and erecting nestboxes on poles, in trees and inside suitable farm buildings in these areas. Where barn owls are dependant on linear grasslands, a breeding pair will require at least 15 km of 5 m wide field margin along riverbank, woodland edge and field edge within a 3 km radius of the nest site. A habitat corridor scheme could be set up that focuses on the re-establishment and better management of grassland and natural nesting sites found along natural features of the landscape.


Target large open grassland areas within barn owl hotspots and manage for the benefit of small mammals such as wood mice, shrews and rats.
Re-establish un-contaminated feeding areas (free from rodenticide use) by encouraging the establishment of wild bird cover away from dwellings on farms so that an increase of rodents does not lead to an increase in rodenticide use.
Encourage the provision of waste grain dumps inside old straw bales around field margins

Preventing Road Deaths

Provision of high roadside hedgerows in areas where roads cross linear grassland features frequented by barn owl to encourage birds to fly high and avoid collisions with road vehicles.


Raise awareness

Undertake a landscape wide awareness campaign to highlight the threat posed to barn owls from the use of rodenticide (rat poison) around farm buildings. Target areas that are thought to be hotspots, and those areas where barn owl habitat is created as part of this plan, and talk to local farmers about reducing and cutting out the use of second-generation rodenticides.


Produce materials to inform planners and developers of the importance of secluded dwellings for barn owls, so that sites are appropriately checked during the planning process for the presence of barn owls. Information should also encourage the provision of barn owl lofts in new and restored agricultural buildings.
Research

Research should be carried out on habitats, such as rough grass margins and wild bird cover, created and managed by agri-environment schemes, to ascertain the density of small mammals contained in this habitat and the accessibility of these habitats to barn owls. Also, ascertain the levels of rodenticide use associated with the creation of habitats such as these habitats wild bird cover


Barn Owl Appeal

A Lough Neagh Wetlands Barn Owl Appeal should be established, seeking records of sightings so that hotspots can be identified. This should include a detailed study of how best to educate and train stakeholders to adequately identify the species so that they can help provide accurate data – producing identification posters, web page etc.


Legislation

The barn owl is protected under the Schedule 1, Article 4 of the Wildlife (Northern

Ireland) Order 1985. It is also included in Red Data Birds in Britain. It is Red listed in Birds of Conservation Concern in Ireland and Amber listed in Birds of Conservation Concern in the UK, Channel Islands and Isle of Man.In addition, the barn owl is also listed in Table 4 in Birds of

Conservation Importance (JNCC, 1996).


The barn owl is listed as a Species of European Conservation Concern (Category 3), having an unfavorable conservation status in Europe but not concentrated in Europe. It is listed under Appendix III of the Berne Convention, CITES Appendix 1 and European threat status D
Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 2 - Planning and Nature Conservation (Paragraph 68) refers to protection of species. This states "the presence of a species protected under the Wildlife Order is material to the consideration of a development proposal, which if carried out would be likely to result in harm to the species or its habitat and, in particular, to places used for shelter or protection."

Further comments refer to conditions that may be stipulated to secure the protection of the species, and the need for developers to conform to any statutory protection measures affecting the site concerned.


The Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1995 recognises that linear features (of which rough grass field margins should be considered) are essential for the migration, dispersal and genetic exchange of wild species.
Tree Preservation Orders – applied under the Planning (Northern Ireland) Order 1991 – can be used to protect mature trees that are of value to barn owls.

Barn Owl - Objectives & Targets































Objectives & Targets


































OBJECTIVE










TARGET



















BO/01

Confirm the breeding population of the Lough Neagh Wetlands











2009



















BO/02

Maintain the existing population











2009



















BO/03

Provide at least 20 new nest boxes, attracting 2 pairs of breeding barn owl











2013



















BO/04

Raise awareness of the habitat requirements of the barn owl in Lough Neagh Wetlands


2013




Barn Owl - Action

















































Actions





































ACTION

LEAD PARTNER

PARTNERS

TO BE ACHIEVED BY 31st Dec:

OBJECTIVES MET

BO/A1

Using appropriate records received by UWT, RSPB, NIBA and the NIRSG etc, map all barn owl records in the Lough Neagh Wetlands using available data from 2002 - 2007, so that these areas can be targeted through agri-environment schemes and suitable hunting and nesting habitat created to help join up fragmented populations. Then maintain a database of barn owl sightings to determine the location of potential territories and ensure this is stored on the Lough Neagh Wetlands GIS and at CEDaR.

LNAC

EHS / LNP / RSPB / UWT / CBC

2008

BO/01

BO/A2

Launch a Lough Neagh Wetlands Barn Owl Appeal to seek up to date records of birds using the area. Produce posters and recording cards and organize specific training sessions with stakeholders to equip them for recording and reporting accurate barn owl data from the Lough Neagh Wetlands. These cards should feature the confusion species Long-Eared Owl and short eared owl, alongside barn owl, to be effective

UWT

EHS / LNAC / LNP / RSPB / CBC

2008

BO/01

BO/A3

Provide training and advice to target groups, including anglers, wildfowlers, game keepers and bird watchers and seek quality records of barn owls in the Lough Neagh Wetlands

UWT

EHS / LNAC / LNP / RSPB / CBC

2008

BO/01 / BO/04

BO/A4

Select 1 Control Site where the habitat and climate is believed suitable for barn owls in the Lough Neagh Wetlands and erect nestboxes every 2km along rivers/drainage ditches

UWT

RSPB / Rivers Agency / EHS / LNAC / LNP / CBC

2009

BO/03

BO/A5

Monitor barn owl nestboxes erected on control site for usage and initiate studies into diet of any birds found using the boxes

UWT

RSPB / EHS / LNAC / LNP

2009

BO/03

B0/A6

Provide DARD Environmental Policy Branch with a proposal (including costs) and encourage them to undertake a study to establish the density of small mammals using open grassland-type habitats that are created and managed through agri-environment schemes, so that specific management guidelines that identify optimum habitat requirements for the barn owl in Northern Ireland can be prepared.

UWT

EHS / LNAC / LNP / RSPB / CBC

2009

BO/02 / BO/03 / BO/04



BO/A7

Produce guidelines for land managers relating to the provision of feeding habitats, the use of rodenticides, the strategic positioning of nestboxes, the retention of natural nest sites, and the strategic positioning of hunting posts. This should include the production of posters/leaflets that highlight the danger caused by rodenticides to barn owls and distribute to farmers and landowners in known key areas of the Lough Neagh Wetlands

LNAC

DARD / EHS / FWAG / LNP/ RSPB / UWT / CBC

2009

BO/02 / B0/03 / B0/04

BO/A8

Monitor at least 1 breeding pair of barn owls to assess their breeding success and confirm their diet. This should include establishing a ringing scheme to determine the mortality rates of the species and to monitor dispersal and confirm territory size.

UWT

EHS / LNAC / LNP / RSPB / CBC

2009

BO/02

BO/A9

Produce guidelines for planners on inspecting buildings for the presence of barn owls during the planning process and to encourage planners/developers to design farm buildings that incorporate nest/roost facilities for barn owls

LNAC

EHS / LNP / RSPB / UWT / Planning Service / CBC

2009

BO/02 / B0/04

B0/A10

Link up barn owl hotspots by creating hunting habitat. Create 15km x 5m rough grass field margins per pair of barn owls, placing habitat along rivers, woodland edges and hedgerows within 1km of known/suspected nest/roost sites.

UWT

DARD / EHS / LNAC/LNP / RSPB / CBC

2010

BO/O2 BO/O3

BO/A11

Encourage farmers and other land managers to reduce the use of harmful rodenticides, used to kill rats and mice around farmyards, highlighting that these are toxic to barn owls. Where rats are not resistant, encourage farmers to use warfarin which has a lower toxicity to barn owls.

UWT

DARD / EHS / LNAC / LNP / RSPB / CBC

2010

BO/02 / B0/03

BO/A12

Establish a local comprehensive research and monitoring programme to identify the location of roosts, nest sites and hunting territories in the Lough Neagh Wetlands.

UWT

EHS / LNAC / LNP / RSPB / CBC

2010

BO/01



BO/A13

Ensure that organisations and individuals responsible for implementing habitat management programmes in the Lough Neagh Wetlands receive effective training and up-to-date advice on appropriate land management practices which benefit breeding barn owl, by holding 1 workshop/lecture every 3 years lead by barn owl conservation experts

UWT

DARD / EHS / LNAC / LNP /Rivers Agency / RSPB / CBC

2010

BO/02 / B0/03 / B0/04

BO/A14

Raise awareness, on an annual basis, among agri-environment scheme advisors of the need to promote the take-up of options that benefit barn owls, based on a study carried out on habitats created and managed through agri-environment schemes to establish density of small mammals relevant to the diet of the species in Northern Ireland; and of the threat to barn owls from rodenticides used around farm buildings.

LNAC

DARD / EHS / FWAG / LNP / RSPB / UWT / CBC

2013

B0/05



Lough Neagh Wetlands Barn Owl Species Action Plan


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