Friday, 4 January 2013

Barn Owl Conservation Handbook

Barn owls have undeniable charm. The other night I saw the pale, ghostly outline of a barn owl waft upwards into the night sky, only the third I have seen this year, and each encounter is a memorable moment. Down the centuries they have been the farmer’s friend, denizen of his barns. The cat of the sky, a mouser and rat-catcher of brilliance, barn owls attract admiration and affection, sentiments which were behind the establishment of The Barn Owl Trust in 1988, an extremely effective single species organisation.

This substantial book aims to be comprehensive, an indispensable guide for ecologists, surveyors, land managers and ornithologists. At almost 400 detailed pages, it is remarkably thorough. Its nine chapters cover ecology, legal aspects, surveys, habitat creation and management, accommodation for barn owls, mortality, planning issues and injury and rehabilitation. It is full of case studies and practical examples of barn owl conservation in action. For me this is one of the most winning aspects of this book: it keeps the practicalities of barn owl conservation in view at all times.

Inevitably in a book with a number of authors, I found the writing patchy, and some sections were not as engaging as perhaps I would have liked. It is a heavyweight tome at a heavy price, so it will pass by most general readers. But this is a handbook designed to draw together a mass of material in one place, a source of information rather than of bedtime reading. As such it contains a wealth of information of interest to its target audience and beyond. Perhaps also, despite the challenges that humans inadvertently put in the path of barn owl survival, like motorways, it is an uplifting tribute to the energy and commitment that so many people have devoted to the cause of this beautiful bird.

This review by James Robertson appeared in the winter edition of Natur Cymru.

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