Bringing back the barn owls

Robert Fuller with his badger hide
Robert Fuller with his badger hide

Talking to Robert, it becomes clear that he has taken the deaths of these owls personally.

After all, many of the tragic little corpses he came across last winter - around 30 in total - had been the subjects of some of his most striking paintings.

Robert Fuller - Checking for an owl

Robert Fuller - Checking for an owl

Having spent hours studying these individual owls, feather by painstaking feather, it is easy to understand just why Robert is so passionate about the Wolds owls, in particular, and why he is so determined to prevent a repeat of last year’s winter wipeout.

“When you see them in flight, barn owls look quite large and substantial,” says Robert.

“But most of that is feathers and down, they’re actually quite small, usually between 12 to 13oz, so you can see how easy it is for them to become weak and affected by the cold.

“That’s why they like to shelter in barns, but they still can’t cope with the extreme winters we’ve had over the last couple of years.”

Last winter, Robert came across the heart-breaking sight of a nesting pair who had died together, with the male resting his wing over his mate.

They had starved to death.

“It was the saddest sight I’d ever seen,” Robert said at the time.

He took it upon himself to feed the owls last winter, leaving chicks and mice for them to eat and even offering farmers buckets of feed to put out for them.

But more often than not, he would return to the site to find that it was too little too late and the death toll continued to rise throughout January and February.

“Whenever I found a carcass it affected me, because I’d got to know some of these owls well - when you study them like I do you know them as individuals,” said Robert.

“It was particularly sad when I’d find one that I’d painted and see that it had starved and frozen to death.”