Barn Owl (Tyto alba) - Species Action Plan

The Barn Owl is a much loved and charismatic bird, being distinctive with its white heart-shaped face, white underparts and golden-brown upperparts. Although considered a relatively scarce species in thee UK it is regarded as an iconic bird of open countryside hunting rough grassland, particularly along the banks of watercourses, field margins and road verges, using its acute hearing to detect its small-mammal prey. Barn Owl
(Photo credit: Colin Shawyer)
Plan Author: Colin Shawyer, Wildlife Conservation Partnership.
Co-ordinator: Communities and Nature BAP Topic Group
Final plan July 2012

Action Plan Summary

Current Status

National Status

Although the Barn Owl is one of the most widespread birds in the world, its numbers crashed throughout much of Europe in the 20th century,undergoing a major decline in England and Wales between 1932 and 1985 from an estimated 12,000 to 3,800 breeding pairs. A more recent survey completed in 1997, indicated a similar breeding population of 4,000 pairs suggesting that although numbers remained very low, the decline may have begun to slow.

Successes past and present

A pioneering initiative by the Barn Owl Conservation Network which began in Norfolk in 1988 and continues to this day throughout the UK and Ireland has resulted in an estimated 4,000 nestboxes having been installed alongside many hundreds of kilometres of favourably managed rivers, drains and drainage channels. Of these about 65% are now used annually by breeding Barn Owls.

Action Plan Objectives and Targets


This SAP aims to enhance the species’ present distribution and abundance in the county of Norfolk by achieving a sustainable two-fold increase in its numbers by 2020, having regard of the short-term fluctuations in breeding productivity caused by the three-year cyclical fluctuations in Field Vole abundance which occur in the UK.

  1. Create new and maintain the existing network of interlinked grassland habitats in the county of Norfolk.
  2. Provide artificial nesting sites at about 2.5 km intervals on these habitat corridors, having regard for any existing breeding pairs.
  3. Disseminate the levels of success that are being achieved.
  4. Develop knowledge of Barn Owl distribution and abundance within the county and identify existing Species Recovery Areas.
  5. Through the planning system, mitigate the impact of any site development or maintenance works on Barn Owls.
  6. Provide advice on the use of rodenticides, road mortality and the ecological survey of Barn Owls.
  7. Raise awareness of farmers, landowners and developers about the significance of Barn Owls in Norfolk and their obligations for the conservation of this ‘Amber Listed’ bird and for its statutory legal protection.
  1. Adopt or maintain management practices which achieve a rough-tussocky sward to watercourses and on farmland.
  2. Instigate a well-structured rolling programme of survey work and nestbox installation/replacement on habitat corridors.
  3. Undertake annual monitoring of the nestbox sites to record occupancy levels and breeding success.
  4. Identify existing and potential nesting and foraging habitat and include records in an environmental database.
  5. Undertake a desk-top and site surveys where Barn Owl habitats might be threatened and implement appropriate mitigation.
  6. Disseminate advice about rodenticides, best practice methods for avoiding road mortality and conducting ecological survey.
  7. Instigate training for those involved in the management of the banks of rivers, water channels and field margins.
Indicators for SAP success
  1. Length and quality of improved habitat.
  2. Number of nestboxes installed.
  3. Annual audit of breeding success.
  4. Inventory of Barn Owl sites in county.
  5. Case study inventory for survey and mitigation involving development projects.
  6. Advisory literature produced.
  7. Number of training sessions held and advisory publications produced.
    • Wildlife Conservation Partnership and Barn Owl Conservation Network-UK and Ireland.

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