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A bad year for barn owls, but cute baby owlets show signs of success

Little owlets at Suffolk Wildlife Trust. Photo:

This time last year, barn owl numbers were at a critical low. The severe cold at the beginning of 2013 had a massive impact on the birds.

Now the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary says the species could have taken another blow because this year's flooding means the birds' food source, like voles and mice will have been destroyed. But there are some signs of success.

The Suffolk Owl Sanctuary says the species has taken a blow.

"The cost of the arctic conditions - we had a lot of birds that either didn't breed or bred much later than what they normally do. Obviously this year we've had the floods and here in East Anglia some of the rivers that have flooded - what's happened is the small mammals have drowned, the mice, the vole - which the barn owls in this area rely upon they are not there."

– Strap Andy, Hulme Suffolk Owl Sanctuary

Barn owls were once a common site across the region. Rich grass lands full of food meant they thrived, but their numbers dropped dramatically through the 1950s to 80s because of pesticides and mass farming.

Laws encouraging farmers to grow more hedgerows and the building of nest boxes to give the owls more breeding spaces has helped grow numbers.

In 1995 there were around 4,000 pairs but the recent bad weather means by 2012 there were just 1000.

At the Suffolk Wildlife Trust they have been part of the nest box campaign and despite the recent weather they have had success.

Owlet at Suffolk Wildlife Trust.

"We are giving them nesting opportunities because we are putting boxes up, we have now put 1,600 boxes up in Suffolk and what we then need is good grass. We are talking about really tussocky grass where the voles can feed and therefore the barn owls can then feed on the voles."

– Steve Piotrowski, Suffolk Wildlife Trust

According to the British Trust for ornithology the demographic suggests that at breeding stage barn owls are doing ok, and fledglings per breeding attempts are stable. The problem therefore is outside the nest.

The next few years are critical, it's hoped the chicks bred at Suffolk Wildlife Trust will have better conditions to grow stronger and have a better chance of surviving the next winter, so the barn owl will continue to be a common site in East Anglia.