Barn owl

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What is a Barn owl?

The barn owl is our most familiar owl. It has a mottled silver-grey and buff back, a pure white underside, a distinctive heart-shaped, white face, and black eyes. It is sometimes known as the screech owl because of its piercing shrieks. However, it is a silent hunter, best seen at dawn or dusk as it quarters tussocky grass field margins looking for field voles, its favourite prey.


Why is the Barn owl important to the Surrey Hills?

Barn owls are protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). They are widely-distributed across the UK, being absent only from the Scottish Highlands, and are year-round residents. Good hedgerow management for the barn owl will create/result in networks of dense, diverse native hedges with hedgerow trees and associated grassy field margins.

What habitat does the Barn owl like?


Hedgerows are important both as landscape features and as wildlife habitat across lowland Britain, especially when associated with features such as grassy field margins. Classic hedges are linear, shrubby, mostly continuous features though hedges which have developed into lines of trees retain landscape value and some wildlife value. Over 600 plant species, 1,500 insects, 65 birds and 20 mammals have been recorded at some time living or feeding in hedges and they are especially important for butterflies and moths, farmland birds, bats and dormice. They also play a crucial role in landscape connectivity, linking up other areas of habitat so that wildlife can move more freely across the farmed landscape.

The presence of barn owls indicates a healthy hedgerow habitat.

What can be done to benefit the Barn owl?

This management will benefit many other hedgerow and farmland species including voles, mice, shrews and farmland birds.
Opportunities to create/improve/extend suitable habitat for this species include:
  • Restoring overgrown/neglected hedgerows by hedge-laying or coppicing and planting up gaps
  • Extending the hedge management cycle to allow hedges to grow taller and wider, and hedgerow fruits and berries to ripen
  • Planting new hedgerows, especially on sites where creation would extend or link existing lengths of hedgerow or woodland
  • Planting/maintaining hedgerow trees for perching and nesting
  • Maintaining grassy field margins alongside hedgerows
Creating and managing areas for the Barn owl will help deliver the following benefits to communities:
  • Clean water
  • Clean air
  • Protection from and mitigation of environmental hazards
  • Mitigation of and adaptation to climate change
  • Thriving plants and wildlife
  • Beauty, heritage and engagement

These illustrations are by an artist taking part in a programme delivered by Watts Gallery Trust and funded by the Michael Varah Memorial Fund. This series of 30 Surrey Hills Indicator Species were commissioned by Surrey Hills Society and funded by Surrey Hills Trust Fund as part of the Making Space for Nature Exhibition.