Getting up and being out at daybreak can be rewarded with wonderful views of barn owls quartering through the early morning mist on Fairwood Common. They’re about every day, but it needs that extra effort of getting out of bed early to have a good chance of seeing them. On a morning such as this, their movement is magical. Watching them create a feeling of beauty and tranquillity is wonderful, but in reality, is one of life or death. The pair I watch takes what seems an age to make a kill, as one finally dives headlong into the grass, emerging with what could be a vole, and retires to a far-off fence post. The kill is devoured in one gulp, and he’s off again hunting for more, this time out of sight beyond the airport on the other side of the common.
The exact status of the British barn owl population has been disputed in the past, but a massive decline over the last century is not really in doubt. Mechanization in the farming industry has almost certainly been the major cause of their demise, and real effort has been put into improving the lot of this evocative bird. Apart from the statutory organizations and major conservation bodies, the Barn Owl Trust, a charity specifically devoted to its salvation, has made a big contribution. Education, reintroductions, nesting boxes, and legal protection have all helped, and the population may now have stabilized.
Apart from the silent wonder of an early country morning, with its sweet smells and soft light, it’s the sense of being alone with nature at first light that’s so special. It instils in me a strong sense of my place in the natural world, and what we’re in danger of loosing. If only more would experience this, and understand this fundamental aspect of human existence, the better the chances of improving the lot of the planet might be.