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It is an offence to disturb a barn owl while it is building a nest or is in, on or near a nest containing eggs or young.

This species is one of the most common of all the birds specially protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and often nests within buildings where there is considerable potential for both casual and intentional disturbance. It is also a very popular bird with researchers and so there is significant demand for licences.

In England, a licence from Natural England to disturb barn owls is usually required by individuals visiting likely breeding sites in order to determine if breeding barn owls are present. The Welsh Government or the Countryside Council are responsible for issuing such licences in Wales. The only exception to the requirement for a licence is if observations are made from sufficient distance from the breeding site so as to avoid any risk that the birds will be disturbed. Entering buildings in order to check for the presence of barn owls is likely to result in disturbance and so should be licensed.

If buildings are visited in order to survey for other species, such as bats, then a barn owl licence would not be required (there is a separate licence required in relation to bats), unless information is available to suggest that barn owls are present and are likely to be disturbed during the survey visit. If this is the case then a licence should be obtained. For further information about wild birds and the law you should contact:

Natural England
Tel: 0845 6014523

Welsh Government
Tel: 0300 062 2253

Countryside Council for Wales
(If the licence is required for scientific or educational purposes, ringing or marking, conserving wild animals or protecting any zoological or botanical collection)
Tel: 0845 1306229

For further information please see the related websites.

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Answers in this FAQ section are provided by the 'Ask the Police' website. Produced by the Police National Legal Database (PNLD) team, 'Ask the Police' is an official police site approved by the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC). All FAQ answers are © PNLD.