Cyprus Mail

Barn owls being used to help protect carob trees

By George Psyllides

In a bid to protect carob trees, conservationists are using barn owls (Tyto alba) to fight rats, which feed on the bark causing significant damage that can lead to loss of production.

In turn, the farmers use poison to tackle the rats, harming birds and other organisms.

Earlier this month, members of the AgroLIFE project and officers of the game service installed eight nests in the village of Anogira, Limassol, which will house barn owls, the rat’s (Rattus rattus) natural enemy.

“The nests were installed in carob trees in plots taking part in the project, but also close to livestock in the wider area of the community,” a news release said.

The barn owl is one of the main rodent predators, contributing significantly to the control of their population, thus limiting damage to agriculture.

It is a permanent resident of the island and is a protected species, which has nesting problems in certain areas due to lack of suitable sites.

Conservationists expect that the nests would help increase the owl population and keep rodent numbers in check.

“According to studies, a pair of barn owls consumes over four to five thousand rodents per year,” the news release said.

The introduction of the owls is expected to boost carob production and cut the cost of fighting rats. It will also be beneficial to the environment by limiting the use of poison and strengthening biodiversity.

AgroLIFE is a three-year project that will put into practice, test, evaluate and disseminate actions and methodologies for the conservation of High Nature Value Farmlands (HNVF) in Cyprus. HNVFs sustain traditional methods of low-input farming supporting biodiversity and ecosystem services while maintaining natural and structural elements important at national and European level.

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