The little owl, Britain’s smallest owl, is declining across Europe but nest box schemes have been shown to work in favourable habitats. We were aware that the population of little owls in the parish was not growing, and was possibly diminishing, and we thought this might be due to lack of suitable nesting sites.
Little owls are monitored much less intensively than barn owls: there are only 70 little owl monitored nests nationally, compared with nearly 500 barn owl sites. So any nests we could support and monitor would make a big difference.
In 2010 we built and put up four little owl boxes in a range of promising sites in the parish, and a further five in 2011.
In 2010 we placed the boxes, as recommended, on buildings, with no success. We found evidence that the boxes had been inspected, and that little owls were in the area. But none took up residence.
So in 2011, following new advice suggesting that, in wooded counties like Sussex, little owls prefer to nest in trees, we switched the boxes to tree locations.
Sadly this didn’t work either. Of the nine boxes erected across the parish, one remained empty, one was used by starlings, four by grey squirrels and two by honey bees. Honey bees and starlings are still welcome, given their conservation status; grey squirrels are a different matter.