04 Jul Barn Owls and Barn Conversions

Barn Owl sites outside the breeding season have no statutory protection per se and the presence of Barn Owls (or other protected species) will rarely, if ever, result in the refusal of a planning application for conversion, renovation or demolition. 

Nevertheless, many traditional agricultural buildings that were at one time readily available to Barn Owls are either falling into dereliction and disrepair or being lost to conversion. We would support the renovation and conversion of such buildings as long as the welfare of the birds is considered. After all, a derelict building that receives no maintenance will only deteriorate further, eventually becoming unsuitable for Barn Owls.

Are Barn Owl sites protected by the planning system?

At one time, the planning system required a protected species survey to be conducted at all rural development sites. Once completed, a survey report detailing mitigation and enhancement measures for protected species was submitted with the application. These measures were then made part of the consent, thereby ensuring the welfare of the species involved. Although some sites were still lost due to failures in the system, many others were converted successfully and still have Barn Owls in their roof spaces to this day.

Recent planning system changes in England, however, now mean that agricultural buildings outside National Parks, AONBs, SSSIs and scheduled ancient monuments can be converted through a process known as Prior Notification. This does not necessarily require a wildlife survey, and no mitigation and enhancement measures appear to be necessary. The system is based on the misconception that wildlife legislation affords the birds sufficient protection. In reality, Barn Owl nest sites have no legal protection outside the breeding season. Use of the Prior Notification system for barn conversions is certain to result in the loss of more Barn Owl sites in the future. 

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