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The Barn Owl Trust

Conserving the Barn Owl and its Environment

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Barn conversions and other development

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Barn Owl roost and nest sites are sometimes lost due to failures in the planning system.

You can help safeguard any Barn Owl nest/roost sites that you know of by monitoring Planning Application Notices in your rural area.


How to check if all the right things are being done:

· On the local Planning Authority’s website, you can check to see if an Ecological Survey of the site/area has been carried out.

· If there isn’t one, ask the Planning Authority why.

· On the local Planning Authority’s website, find and read the report. It may be entitled ‘Ecological Survey Report’, ‘Biodiversity Assessment’, ‘Protected Species Survey’, ‘Wildlife Survey’, 'Environmental Statement' or similar (names vary).

· What to look for:

A good Survey and a good Report containing all appropriate recommendations, acted upon by the applicant and architect, resulting in a good planning application, well checked by a Planning Officer who is aware of the Biodiversity Duty placed on all Local Authorities SHOULD result in developments where wildlife is protected, any impact mitigated, and wildlife interest enhanced.


Useful background information

Old barns used by Barn Owls are still disappearing from the countryside as a result of demolition and decay. The conversion of barns and derelict cottages has also contributed to site loss, as the vast majority of conversions carried out before the late 90's didn't have any provision for Barn Owls incorporated. However between 1990 and 1995 the Barn Owl Trust carried out its Barn Conversion Research Project which demonstrated the negative effect of barn conversions and the usefulness of making provision for Barn Owls. In 1995 and again in 2002 the Barn Owl Trust produced detailed guidance for planners and developers and the idea of making provision became better known. As a result of changes in government policy published in 2005/06 and the implementation of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act (2006) there are now more sites where Barn Owls nest with people living or working directly underneath.


Where a barn is due to be converted, it is obviously important to find out if the site is being used by Barn Owls or whether it used to be. It is the responsibility of the applicant to have a wildlife survey carried out as part of the pre-application process and most people would employ an Ecological Consultant for this purpose. It is the responsibility of the Local Planning Authority to ensure that a survey has been carried out and that they have sufficient information before they register the application.

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 the Barn Owl is afforded special legal protection at all times. Although the sites that Barn Owls use are not protected, they do have special protection against wilful or reckless disturbance whilst nesting is taking place. Therefore it is illegal to undertake any work which could cause disturbance to breeding Barn Owls at or near the nest site. Anyone who could reasonably be expected to know that something they are about to do may disturb breeding Barn Owls, and fails to check whether Barn Owls are present, may be guilty of an offence under the CROW Act 2000.

There's more information on Barn Owl surveys, legal considerations, planning issues, mitigation and enhancement and nestboxes and other accommodation in the Barn Owl Conservation Handbook


Where there is evidence of Barn Owls using a site always ensure that the local authority planning authority knows about the birds presence (just in case no survey has been done or the birds arrived after the survey). Barn conversions are never refused because of Barn Owls and the presence of Barn Owls is a reason for development (with provision) as it can help secure the long-term future of the site for the species. You can download a copy of the latest guidance "Barn Owls and Rural Planning Applications - a Guide", published by the Barn Owl Trust with support from Natural England. The Guide contains the following three sections:

  • "What needs to happen" - A Guide for planners
  • Applicants' Handout - A Pre-application Guide
  • Making Provision for Barn Owls - A Guide for Planners, Applicants and Developers

It also includes a set of Specimen Barn Owl Planning Conditions for Planning Officers to attach to planning consents.


If you become aware of a barn conversion and suspect that the needs of Barn Owls are not being taken into account, you should contact the Local Planning Authority. If you are not satisfied with their response, contact Natural England (previously English Nature), the Countryside Council for Wales or Scottish Natural Heritage.

You may also like to refer to our leaflet ‘Barn Conversions'.

The Barn Owl Trust is dedicated to conservation & education and does not operate a visitor centre.
Barn Owl Trust staff and volunteers
Waterleat, Ashburton, Devon TQ13 7HU
+44 (0) 1364 653026