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Barn owls and the law

Hunting barn owl

Image: Nigel Blake

We receive many enquiries regarding captive barn owls, mostly from people who have seen one in captivity or advertised for sale.

They are understandably concerned that owls are being kept illegally or in cruel conditions. This concern is that much greater because the barn owl is known to have declined in numbers as a wild bird in the UK.

The law

Wild barn owls are given the highest level of legal protection possible under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act. Doing or attempting any of the following actions against a wild barn owl is illegal and punishable by a maximum fine, upon conviction, of £5,000:

  • Killing or injuring a barn owl
  • Catching a barn owl
  • Taking or destroying any egg of a barn owl
  • Damaging or destroying the active nest site with eggs or young or before eggs are laid
  • Disturbing the dependent young of a barn owl
  • Possessing, offering for sale or selling a barn owl (but see below)
  • Release or allow the escape of a barn owl into the wild (but see below)

Captive barn owls

Despite their decline in the wild, barn owls breed very easily in captivity. There is a large population of legitimate captive birds. More...

Captive barn owls

Cruelty to barn owls

We assist the police in the enforcement of wild bird legislation and may wish to act upon any information received regarding offences involving wild barn owls. More...

Cruelty to barn owls

Bird guide