Barn owl flying over avenue

There’s no such thing as a barn owl…

The vast majority of our native species are adapted to a landscape now almost unseen. Making the most of circumstances and habitats far from the sort of environments they evolved to inhabit, with many populations gradually dying out as a result. 

Before the wholesale impacts of human intervention, our landscape was a dynamic patchwork quilt. A constantly changing mosaic of scrub, trees, open ground and wetlands, all prevented from becoming continuous woodland by the ever-present grazing, browsing, rootling, and disturbance of communities of large animals, such as wild ponies, wild boar and now extinct woodland cattle. 

Many of the species that we have come to think of as specialists are often just making the best of less-than-ideal situations, referred to in textbooks and given names that can confuse or mislead. 


Barn owls evolved to nest in the nooks, crannies, and gnarled branches of veteran trees, not to live in barns that have been present in the timeline of their evolution for the blink of an eye. Described as a garden bird, the faithful Robin landing on your garden fork as you dig your vegetables is evolved to follow the terranean disturbances of the once widespread wild boar, capitalising on the freshly exposed insects and seeds, not the spoils of our own horticultural activity. What we refer to as farmland birds, including Linnet, Skylark, and Tree Sparrow have all spent the majority of their evolutionary history in a farm-free world, but are all now adapting to a different landscape.

Understanding the ecological and evolutionary context of the land that we are privileged to manage is key to making informed decisions and ultimately restoring the health and abundance of our natural world. Ecosystem restoration, regenerative farming, and rewilding can all play a part in recreating the complex diversity now missing in our landscape, opening our eyes to what is natural, and in a very short period of time, wonderful things can happen.