South Antrim MLA Pam Cameron is hatching plans to protect of one of Northern Ireland’s most endangered birds after signing up to become a ‘Species Champion’ for the barn owl.
There are estimated to be less than 30 to 50 breeding pairs of barn owls left in Northern Ireland. Loss of suitable hunting and nesting habitat, combined with the build up of toxins from consuming poisoned prey, are the main reasons for the bird’s decline.
Mrs Cameron met with Catherine Fegan, Barn Owl Officer with Ulster Wildlife, recently on a farm near Aldergrove to learn first-hand about the species and the practical actions landowners can take to give the bird a fighting chance.
Farm owner Andrew Cunningham, a keen conservationist, has established a variety of habitats suitable for barn owls, including new plantations at various stages of growth and uncut grass around the trees which attracts small mammals - the bird’s favoured prey. He also put up an indoor nest box in an outlying shed after spotting a barn owl in the area.
Speaking during her visit, Mrs Cameron said: “I am delighted to be championing the barn owl, not least because I think they are particularly beautiful and iconic creatures, but also because they are under real pressure. My visit to Mr Cunningham’s farm has given me a much better understanding of this important species, and I look forward to working with Ulster Wildlife to help promote and secure its future.”
Through its ‘Be there for Barn Owls’ project, supported by Heritage Lottery Fund, Ulster Wildlife is helping to halt the decline in barn owls by working with farmers and landowners to provide advice on managing their land sensitively, as well as undertaking surveys to establish their location.
Catherine Fegan said: “We are delighted Mrs Cameron has selected the barn owl to champion in her constituency. Having a dedicated species champion will help raise the profile of this threatened bird and we hope by working closely with Mrs Cameron, we can make a positive impact on the big decisions affecting its future.”
Pam Cameron is one of a number MLAs who have taken on the cause of a locally endangered species in Northern Ireland through the Species Champion initiative, which is coordinated by Northern Ireland Environment Link.
To find out more about barn owls in Northern Ireland and ways to help protect them, or to report a sighting, log on to www.ulsterwildlife.org/barnowl