As a member of the Wolds Barn Owl Group, I have put up 130 nest boxes across East and North Yorkshire over the years to boost the population. Up until this winter the project has been a great success.
But I checked 25 of these boxes during the cold spell and found 25 dead owls. Out of 50 owls you would expect to be living in these boxes I only found four alive, which means that locally we could have lost 80 or 90pc of our owls. This was one of the saddest sights of all: a pair lying dead at the bottom of one of the boxes, the male with its wing lying protectively over the female.It's absolutely tragic. Some of the carcases I collected were those of the models I have used for paintings, like these. It feels like I've lost some of my oldest friends.Barn owls struggle to survive in cold weather. They weigh just 12 oz and their food, voles, shrews and mice, disappear into a network of tunnels under the snow. If the cold weather that we had over November and December returns, it could take 10 - 15 years for the population to recover. For more on the plight of these beautiful birds click here to read my column in the Yorkshire Post this Saturday.