Vane Farm RSPB reserve, solar panels on roof

Farm buildings

Farm buildings are particularly important for several species of birds and bats.

Farm buildings

Although traditional farm buildings made from natural materials have the greatest wildlife value, a lot can be done to improve the wildlife value of modern agricultural buildings.

Providing nesting and roosting sites alone is not enough to maintain populations. Feeding habitat around the farmyard and in the surrounding farmland is also essential. However, birds should be excluded from food storage areas wherever possible.

Key points

  • Make existing buildings as attractive to wildlife as possible.
  • Ensure features which have attracted wildlife in the past are maintained when buildings are restored or converted to new uses.
  • Establish plenty of seed and insect-rich feeding habitats around the yard and in the surrounding farmland.
Cattle grazing at Birsay Moors RSPB reserve, Orkney Mainland

Benefits to wildlife

Many birds and bats make use of farm buildings for nesting and roosting, taking advantage of features such as eaves (house martins), beams and ledges (swallows, barn owls and kestrels), access to roof spaces and crevices in walls (bats, spotted flycatcher, starlings and sparrows).

Old traditional buildings may also be important for plants such as ferns, mosses and lichens and numerous insects.

The area around farm buildings also makes an important contribution to farm wildlife. Bats, swallows and house martins seek insects attracted to manure heaps. Spilt grain and hayseeds provides food for sparrows, finches and yellowhammers, helping such species survive the winter. 

Barn owl Tyto alba, perched in a window

Managing farm buildings

It is important that wildlife is taken into consideration when traditional buildings are restored, have maintenance work done or are converted to new uses. Features which have attracted wildlife in the past should be retained wherever possible.

  • Local authorities have a legal responsibility to establish the presence of barn owls, bats and other protected species before building work commences and may require mitigation as part of the project.
  • All 16 species of bat in the UK are fully protected, as are their roost sites. It is illegal to damage, destroy or obstruct access to a bat roost.
  • Avoid removing mosses, ferns and lichens from roofs and walls, as besides their own wildlife value, many species of invertebrate will be associated with these plants.
  • New buildings tend to provide fewer opportunities for wildlife. However, much can be done to improve the value of modern buildings to birds and other wildlife.
  • Nest boxes for a range of species can be attached to the inside or outside of farm buildings or incorporated into the building with entrance holes on the outside. Even buildings that need to exclude wildlife such as grain stores can incorporate the latter.
  • Entrance holes are best faced towards undisturbed cover such as trees. Planting native climbers such as ivy or honeysuckle to grow against buildings, and landscaping the area around buildings with trees and shrubs of local provenance provide habitat and help blend buildings into the landscape.
Farm building PDF screenshot

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How to manage farm buildings for wildlife. PDF, 91Kb.

Farm buildings advisory sheet (England)

How to manage farm buildings for wildlife. PDF, 445Kb.

Farm buildings advisory sheet (Scotland)

How to maintain roosting sites

In order to maintain bird nesting and roosting sites in buildings:

  • Leave existing nest sites alone
  • Create new entrance holes
  • Create new opportunities in existing buildings, such as internal ledges or boxes fitted under exposed overhanging roofs
  • Use external nest boxes as a last resort.

The area around farm buildings makes an important contribution to farm wildlife. Allowing rough areas of grassland, brambles and other weeds to develop offers nectar for invertebrates as well as cover and seeds for birds.

Water around the yard can be especially attractive. Reduce the chances of owls and other wildlife drowning by floating a wooden plank or plastic tray in drinking troughs.

Providing nest sites alone is not enough to maintain populations of birds. Food resources around the farmyard and good foraging habitat in the surrounding farmland are vital. Birds breeding around farm buildings are more likely to be successful if they do not need to travel far to find food.

Controlling 'less welcome' visitors

Although birds breeding around farm buildings are more likely to be successful if they do not need to travel far to find food, birds should be excluded from food storage areas wherever possible. Good housekeeping and hygiene measures should reduce the attraction of birds.

Starlings are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which makes it illegal to intentionally kill or injure a starling. General licences issued under the Act are available in Wales and Scotland, and under the Wildlife Order in Northern Ireland. Lethal control is only permitted under a general licence if there is no alternative solution. The provision to control starlings under a general licence was removed from the Act in 2005 in England.

Rats are less welcome mammals in farm buildings. New ‘second generation’ rodenticides, such as brodifacoum, bromadiolone and difenacoum, are much more toxic to domestic animals, birds of prey and other wildlife than warfarin, so these will need to be managed with extreme care. In particular, you should:

  • Prevent access to bait by birds and other animals
  • Search for rodent bodies and dispose of them safely
  • Remove all remains of bait and bait containers after treatment and dispose of it safely.
 Starling, Sturnus vulgaris, perched on lichen covered branch in garden in Durham.