The Wicklow Barn Owl desktop calendar featuring a different photograph and a ‘fun fact’ per month is a great way of learning more about the lifecycle of these fascinating birds and includes contact details for the Wicklow Barn Owl group. To request your free copy drop an e mail with your postal address to firstname.lastname@example.org
The Barn Owl is a Red-listed Bird of Conservation Concern in Ireland, due to extensive declines in their breeding population and range. As a top predator and sentinel species for the health of our countryside, the declines in Barn Owl populations are extremely worrying. These declines reflect land use changes and the intensification of farming practices. Alongside these land use changes and the loss of habitat, the increased use and increased toxicity of anti-coagulant rodenticides, and the expansion of major road networks are likely to have affected Barn Owl populations. Although Barn Owl populations have declined over recent decades, there are early indications that Barn Owl populations are recovering in certain parts of their range in Ireland. The spread of two non-native species, Greater White-toothed Shrew and Bank Vole, is thought to have fuelled increased breeding success of the Barn Owl and a recovery of range. There was however a lack of data for County Wicklow, with only two records for the entire county in Jan 2022.
Wicklow Barn Owl Initiative
In 2022 the Heritage Office of Wicklow County Council in partnership with local National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) staff initiated the Wicklow Barn Owl project with the aim of gathering baseline data on this species in County Wicklow and providing suitable supplementary habitat through the installation of Barn Owl nesting boxes where appropriate. The project received co-funded by The Heritage Council and Wicklow County Council as an action of the County Wicklow Heritage Plan. NPWS supplied the nesting boxes and managed the considerable task of erecting these in suitable interior and exterior locations throughout the county, enlisting professional tree climbing expertise as required.
‘Eyes on the ground’
The valuable role of landowners and volunteers in providing sightings and reports of Barn Owls as part of this project cannot be overstated.
Project funding allowed us to engage Oran O Sullivan to undertake field work, visiting suitable sites of both historic and current sightings, making contact with landowners and interested individuals, and following up on phone calls and e mails. Oran, along with Damian Clarke from NPWS gave a number of talks and presentations on Barn Owls throughout the year including at our ‘Lets Get Buzzing’ workshop in Ashford for Tidy Towns groups on 9th April, and we were pleased to welcome John Lusby from Birdwatch Ireland at a special Barn Owl talk in Arklow Library for National Biodiversity Week in May 2022.
The Wicklow Branch of BirdwatchIreland contributed significantly to the project through raising awareness among their members, reporting sightings, and carrying out a dedicated coastal evening survey in July. As part of this project we developed @Wicklow Barn Owl Group facebook page in early 2022 and issued a call out to the public in Wicklow to get involved (see another article on this site here). Many thanks to Anne Marie Ward , Education Guide with Wicklow Mountains National Park for co-ordinating Wicklow Barn Owl Group social media throughout the year.
Huge increase in records
By the end of 2022 we had received a remarkable 48 sightings in the county, the majority reported by interested members of the public. This total represents a huge increase on reporting in previous years when a figure of as low as 2 pairs was suggested for the entire county!
Plans for 2023
The provision of Barn Owl nesting boxes is a very important resource for the project. The interim figure on boxes erected in 2022 is in the region of 25 plus, with another round scheduled to be erected in early 2023. This greatly maximises breeding opportunities for Barn Owls and provides a focus for monitoring the occupancy of these sites in 2023. We also intend to create an online GIS based recording database in acssociation with Wicklow County Council through which data can be shared with the National Biodiversity Data Centre (NBDC)
Subject to funding, we intend to continue the Wicklow Barn Owl Project in 2023 and as always we would love to hear from you. Please contact/ text/ whatsapp or call T: 087 2339280 E-Mail email@example.com.