It seems 2005 has been the best year in the last two decades for barn owls (Tyto alba) , with record large brood sizes and earliest laying dates recorded throughout the country.
Barn owl breeding success naturally fluctuates from year to year and generally follows a four-year cycle depending on the availability of small mammals.
The high volume of seeds and beech mast (beech nuts or fruit) produced last autumn meant that many rodents, particularly wood mice and bank voles, were plentiful this year.
This is good news for the barn owl, and for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and Hawk and Owl Trust who between them have been running the Barn Owl Monitoring Programme.
Since the 1930s, barn owl numbers in Britain have declined drastically with the population falling from 12,000 to 4,000 pairs by the year 2000.
Thanks to targeted conservation efforts, including working with farmers and landowners to provide nesting sites and establish suitable habitat, numbers have begun to rise again with an estimated current population of about 4,400 pairs.
David Glue, Research Biologist for the BTO said, 'This is a great success story. The conservation efforts have increased the status of a declining species. There is still a long way to go, but this is certainly a step in the right direction.'