|Courtesy BTO Atlas|
Here's a quote from an email sent to me recently asking me to sign a petition:
The barn owl used to be a common sight in the United
Kingdom, but now the birds have become increasingly
endangered. One of the biggest causes of barn owl deaths
is rat poison -- and the government isn't doing everything
it could to help them.
Before you rush out and shoot a farmer or your local MP, let me tell you that the above statement is inaccurate, unfounded and alarmist. In other words, it's a load of bollocks. I send Barn Owl corpses regularly to the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Lancaster, and receive the results of their analysis. Yes, they test for rodenticides; yes, traces are often found, but nowhere near lethal doses. I do not know of a single case where rodenticide poison was the declared cause of death. The largest proportion of Barn Owl fatalities are RTAs. The main reason for the decline of Barn Owls in the UK was loss of feeding habitat and loss of breeding sites. From a low of 2000 pairs, the population has grown to 5000 pairs or more, thanks to sustained programmes of nestbox erection and the establishment of food corridors by pioneers like Colin Shawyer.
Of course we should continue to monitor the presence of rodenticides in animal corpses, and of course we should insist that the rules governing the use of poisons are strictly enforced, and of course we should always be looking for alternative methods of control.
But the reason I get so angry about petitions like the one above is that they bring the conservation movement into disrepute. I will go to war for the environment as long as I have breath, but I have no intention of winning spurious battles and then losing the war, particularly as I have no wish to be seen as an alarmist doom-mongering lunatic.
Envoi: 1913 was overall a poor season, which the Guardian reported as the species being on the verge of extinction. Silly Grauniad, get your facts right.