ONCE a common sight gliding over fields and country roads, the barn owl is in decline.

Now a campaign has been launched in this region to halt the fall in numbers.

The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust says that the barn owl population has dropped by 70 per cent in the UK since the 1930s.

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Conservationists believe that the run of bad winters, and the prolonged snow last March, has left numbers at their lowest ever.

North Yorkshire is one of the areas affected, and Dr Rob Stoneman, chief executive of the Trust, says habitat loss and a fall in the availability of nest sites is in part to blame.

“Since the end of the Second World War, 97 per cent of the UK’s natural lowland grasslands have either been ploughed up or built upon,” he said. “Barn owls also have far fewer nesting sites due to tree loss and barn restoration. This loss of habitat, along with the widespread use of agricultural chemicals, like rodenticides, left UK barn owls with an estimated 4,000 breeding pairs in the mid 2000’s. Now the number of breeding pairs is thought to be as low as 1,000.”

The Yorkshire Wildlife Trust would like to restore the high quality grassland that barn owls need for hunting and aims to install new nesting sites on its reserves at Staveley and Ripon Loop.

Staveley Nature Reserve, north of Knaresborough, has great potential to be a stronghold for barn owls with stretches of wildflower rich grassland set among freshwater lagoons and plans are in place to increase the number of nest boxes.

Appleton Mill Farm, on the southern edge of the North York Moors, close to the village of Appleton le Moors, is also an ideal place for nature and it is hoped establishing more nesting areas for barn owls here will help to encourage birds to make more use of the farm's grassland habitats.

Dr Stoneman said: “Whilst we can’t control the weather, we can give barn owls the best possible chance of recovery by providing them with more nesting sites and high quality grasslands over which to hunt.

“This is why we are asking everyone to support us by giving just £4 per month to help barn owls to recover and ensure that future generations can enjoy seeing this magnificent owl here in Yorkshire.”

If you would like to support Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s campaign to help save the barn owl in North Yorkshire visit www.ywt.org.uk/barnowl.