Ghostly encounter... with a barn owl

The barn owl has become increasingly rare

The barn owl has become increasingly rare - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

No, I'm not wandering into Christine Donnelly's territory! However, last week we did have a rather spooky experience when out on a dog walk.

We ventured out to the Daymark - standing 80ft high and built in 1864, it's a lighthouse without a light - just outside Kingswear.

The evenings are, of course, beginning to draw in and we got caught out by the rapidly descending gloom and, on the return journey back to the car park, it quickly got dark and, then, I suddenly caught sight of a ghostly white apparition wafting silently over the hedgerow.

However, this 'ghost' had a completely natural, not supernatural explanation.

The bone-white face that casually glanced in our direction belonged to a barn owl, an increasingly rare sight in our beleaguered countryside.

I immediately recognised it because, as a lad, I had owned a hand-reared female barn owl, who became a much-loved and fascinating pet.

This owl - who, with their eerie vocalisations and white plumage probably inspired many a ghost story - must have been a very familiar sight to our ancestors, yet many of us haven't had the joy of experiencing this beautiful bird in the wild, which is a terrible shame because it really is an avian treasure.

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Like so much of our wildlife, the barn owl has become increasingly rare and the pressures it faces are, unsurprisingly, all man-made.

Through intensive farming methods, we have brought about a decline in its favoured prey species, voles, our roads claim a lot of barn owl lives, as does our over-use of poisons and now we are even moving into their traditional homes - the very places that gave them their name - depriving them of roosting and nesting sites.

However, a fightback began in 1988 when a small Devon-based charity was founded to preserve this exquisite hunter. They have worked tirelessly with landowners and farmers to ensure there's a 'barn owl friendly' environment in which to live and breed.

This partnership is obviously bringing about results in this part of South Devon.

To learn more about the amazing work this charity does, go to the