Barn owl perched in window

Legal status

This section offers advice on the law but in cases of doubt the actual legislation should be consulted.

The law, and captive breeding

The barn owl is on Schedule 1 of both the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 and The Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order, 1985; therefore the birds, their nests, eggs and young are fully protected at all times throughout the UK. Penalties, involving an unlimited fine and/or a custodial sentence, apply to offences against barn owls.

It is also an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb barn owls at an active nest site with eggs or young or before eggs are laid, or to disturb the dependent young. This is not normally a problem on working farms and farmers are often in the best position to ensure freedom from disturbance. The Act caters for incidental disturbance, which could not reasonably be avoided.

While it is illegal to take barn owls from the wild, they can be kept in captivity if they are injured wild birds undergoing treatment or they are captive-bred. The sale, offer for sale, purchase or commercial use of barn owls is legal only in certain conditions. The birds must be captive-bred, fitted with a close-ring and come with a special licence, known as an Article 10 certificate, issued by the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

In addition, the barn owl is on Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. It is therefore illegal to release barn owls into the wild in Britain without a licence. DEFRA are unlikely to issue a license, unless advised to do so by Natural England, Natural Resources Wales or Scottish Natural Heritage.

Barn owls, four young birds at nest in a barn