The National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) has discovered that large numbers of the protected species are being killed on elevated sections of Irish motorways which have grass embankments.
Dr Jer Good of the NPWS told a Bord Pleanála oral hearing into the planned 80km Cork-Limerick motorway yesterday that lightly-built owls swooping to catch field mice and moles on the grass banks were often casualties of the suction caused in the wake of passing lorries.
He said a recent study carried out on the M8 in north Tipperary showed a very high mortality rate among barn owls. On one day last April, six barn owls were found dead on a small section of the highway.
Dr Good said studies in the Netherlands showed barn owl populations had been virtually wiped out along motorways with grass embankments. A survey in England also found 72% of barn owls flying near major roads were likely to be killed.
Under an EU Directive, he said there was an obligation on this country to protect such vulnerable birds of prey.
NRA representatives said they would take on board Dr Good’s recommendations to plant trees, gorse and scrub along certain sections of the Cork-Limerick motorway which would provide cover for likely owls’ prey.
The landscaping measures would discourage the birds from hunting in these areas, therefore, making it less likely they would be killed by passing lorries.
Prior to the motorway’s construction, a survey of all barn owls nesting within 5km of the road will be carried out.
The survey will aim to identify their hunting areas and ensure “hot spots” along the motorway are provided with plant cover.
A year after the motorway opens, a follow-up survey will also be conducted to identify the number of owls killed on the road. The survey will be carried out every 15 days over a 12-month period and will, if necessary, recommend further planting in vulnerable areas.
Dr Good said he hoped such practices would be introduced on all other motorways throughout the country.
The likely costs of the wild bird project were not divulged and not discussed at the hearing.