The Trust's work - dealing with planning applications etc.
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Our close involvement in this whole subject area really started with the "Barn Conversion Research Project" back in 1990. This mammoth five-year study was the first to investigate the effects of barn conversions on resident Barn Owls, the usefulness of making provision for Barn Owls in conversions, the rate of loss of old barns from the countryside, and the overall availability of potential roosting and nesting places. The study also quantified the suitability of various types of buildings. Did you know, for example, that only 48% of old barns and 4% of modern barns are suitable for Barn Owls to nest in?
Working with Natural England
Following the production of the Barn Conversion Research Project Report in 1995, and a scientific paper, we produced the first edition of the booklet "Barn Owls on Site; a guide for developers and planners" which was mailed out to every Local Authority Planning Department in Britain. This provided planners and developers with their first detailed guidance along with a list of recommendations for changes in planning policies. Rather than trying to stop barn conversions, we recommended that surveys should be carried out to establish if birds were present, and, whether they were or not, provision for the owls should be incorporated into the development. This guidance has subsequently been superceded by "Barn Owls and Rural Planning Applications - a Guide", a BOT published document, funded and supported by Natural England. This guide presents the most thorough and up-to-date guidance on where, when and how to make provision for Barn Owls, from pre-application stage to the finished development, and is aimed at applicants, ecologists, and planners, indeed anyone involved with rural developments where Barn Owls are or might be an issue.
Since those early years, dealing with enquiries from planning officers, local councillors, developers, site owners and concerned neighbours has become very much a part of our day-to-day work. A second edition of 'Barn Owls on Site' appeared in 2002 and with funding from Natural England we produced the first ever on-line guide in 2009. This document will form part of the 'biodiversity toolkit' within the governments 'Planning Portal' website.
Built in provision
Fortunately many local authorities have adopted some or all of our recommendations and it is not uncommon these days to come across a converted barn with a space incorporated for Barn Owls to nest in - and a fair number of these have nesting Barn Owls!
If you're thinking of building-in a space for Barn Owls within the apex of a roof (such as a barn conversion) rather than erecting a pre-made box, check out our Accommodating Barn Owls within building projects page.
These days, local planning authorities (LPA's) shouldn't even consider an application for the redevelopment of an old building unless a wildlife survey has been carried out. Government policy now requires LPA's to ensure that protected species are not adversely affected by planning decisions. In addition, it is now perfectly legitimate to expect planning decisions to result in 'enhancement' of biodiversity as well as protection. The demand for Ecologists who carry out surveys for bats, Barn Owls, and other protected species has grown so much that the Barn Owl Trust became a training provider in 2005.
There is more information on this and many other topics in the Barn Owl Conservation Handbook.
Training for planners and ecologists
As well as running our training courses for consultants entitled "Barn Owl Ecology, Surveys and Signs" we are still involved at a grass-roots level and often get calls from people concerned about a new planning application to convert a known Barn Owl site. Housing estates on Barn Owl hunting grounds, new roads through prime habitats, hollow trees being felled, old barns falling down or being demolished, all generate work for our small team of overworked staff!