Ornithologists say 2013 will be viewed as the worst year ever recorded for one of Britain's favourite farmland birds.
They fear that there are now fewer than 1,000 breeding pairs of barn owls in England, following four years of extreme weather that have resulted in the population of the protected bird declining by more than three-quarters. In a typical year, conservationists estimate, Britain should be home to as many as 4,000 pairs of the birds.
Fears about the decline in the barn owl population have been growing for many years. The birds were a common sight on farmland in Britain a century ago, but numbers had declined by 70% by the early 1980s, according to some reports. Over this summer, the trust warned that the owl was facing a "catastrophe" and now, following an end-of-year assessment, the true scale of the birds' plight has been revealed.