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15 October 2013

Farm 'improvements'

Rich meadow before, pasture monoculture after, Co. Kerry (M.O'Clery).

It was a bit of a shock to return to one of our Barn Owl sites in Co. Kerry to find the whole area had been 'improved'. Instead of several large, rich meadows of grasses and wildflowers, the entire area has been bulldozed and resown, hedgerows uprooted and one of the best areas for Barn Owls in the county was now reduced to a single enormous, relatively sterile pasture. 

Gone are the flocks of Goldfinches and Linnets, Skylarks will no longer breed, and all the butterflies and damselflies are no more. Unseen, in the miniature understory of the waist-deep meadow grasses, would have been many field mice and voles upon which Barn Owls, Kestrels and Long-eared Owls would have fed. All are now gone.

Demolished Barn Owl roost, Co. Kerry (M.O'Clery).

What is more, the derelict house on the edge of this area which housed a roosting Barn Owl for many years (and several bats) has been demolished.

There is still an active Barn Owl nest site nearby, but like many other sites in the country, the pair failed to produce any young in summer 2013, due to the exceptionally cold spring. We will continue to monitor the nest site, but the pair may struggle to find enough food now that one of the largest areas of productive hunting for them has effectively been removed.

Cattle numbers in Ireland rose 4.4 percent and sheep by 9 percent in the past year (link), so pressure on marginal farmland is greater than ever, but as so often happens, wildlife comes out second best.