Fears for barn owls after 'worst year on record'

Extreme weather has left barn owls suffering their "worst year ever," conservationists have warned.

An unusually cold spring caused a dramatic drop in nesting by the farmland species in 2013, according to monitoring schemes undertaken across the UK.

Barn owls suffered their worst year on record in 2013 as they struggled in the face of the bitterly cold spring, conservationists have said. Credit: PA

The number of occupied nests was down 71% on the average across all previous years and almost four times as many dead barn owls were reported to the British Trust for Ornithology in March, according to the Barn Owl Trust.

David Ramsden, the trust's senior conservation officer, said: "It's a lot to do with the fact that March was like January. Just when it should be getting warmer and mortality should have been dropping, it continued."

The barn owl's chance of recovery depends on land management and whether climate change will bring more cold winters, he added.