Monday, 27 June 2016

Entrances cast in situ

When Barbara Wager, of Thorpe in Derbyshire, contacted us about how to provide Swift accommodation in a stone wall, we discussed various ideas, ending up with making entrances by casting them in situ.

This is a small-scale rerun of the Alcázar of Segovia project, where we, AfS provided formers, and the rest was done on site. In this case, the wall is 2 feet thick. The entrance leads to a natural cavity in the stonework, without any need for a nest box. The cavity is sealed with a board.

These pictures explain exactly how it was done:

2 formers
2 formers embedded in mortar

With formers removed, 2 entrance holes

A view from inside the building, with former still in place

2 neat entrances in the gable

Monday, 20 June 2016

Santon Downham Church

St Mary the Virgin, Santon Downham, in Norfolk is in a very attractive setting on the edge of the village green

It also has the easiest belfry that we have seen for installing Swift boxes. There is even a solid floor to stand on while working on the boxes!

In the lower half of the picture, left, it can be seen that the louvres are flush with the sides. This makes it very straightforward to screw the boxes to the sides.

Bill Landells has done an excellent job installing 18 boxes in 6 cabinets on 2 sides of the belfry, 3 on each side. All with access doors for inspection.

There is the potential for 2 odd-shaped boxes above the top cabinet. As Swifts always seem to go for the tops of the louvres first, this may be something worth pursuing in the future.

St Mary the Virgin, Santon Downham

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Swift boxes on a thatched cottage gable

There are no new ideas here, but it demonstrates that, with a little thought, Swift boxes can fit in well with the appearance of a pretty village cottage.

Great Wilbraham is an attractive village just 2 miles from Fulbourn, the home of one of the largest and most successful Swift nest boxing projects in the UK. Great Wilbraham itself also has a healthy population of Swifts.

The design, with 5 nest chambers, is another version of these designs (Elsworth, Reach)



Sunday, 12 June 2016

Swift Action Harleston - Swift mobile

We were delighted to receive this story from Harleston in Norfolk. The local group, Swift Action Harleston has come up with a great idea that could be replicated anywhere.

The mobile was produced from hundreds of cut-out Swift shapes by pupils at Harleston Primary School. Each Swift is decorated with a design based on the colours of the flags of the Southern European or African countries through which the Swifts fly on migration and carries an individual message to the Swifts from the pupil that made it.

The pictures below show close ups of  some of the designs in the mobile which are all being combined and turned into flags for display in the town.

One of the delightful messages reads:
"Dear Swifts ... never give up, never give up. If the weather knocks you down, get back up, never give up, you can do it. Please don't die."

Isn't that nice, and here are some pictures of their spectacular mobile:

Year 8 students at Archbishop Sancroft High School, designed and printed their own swift flags for display in Harleston town centre.

Harleston Box Brigade, with some of their productions

Thursday, 26 May 2016

New Swift nest sites in the Alcázar of Segovia

When we met Javier Saez Frayssinet in Szczecin, we discussed an idea of how to transform irregular holes in walls into entrances suitable for Swifts. We, AfS, had developed a method suitable for casting entrances in situ. The result of this conversation is most gratifying, with 60 new nest sites, so far, being incorporated in the walls of the castle, it may well end up with over 100 new nest sites.

The Alcázar of Segovia. Photo Wikipedia
The Alcázar of Segovia is spectacular (see Wikipedia), and a wonderful setting for a Swift colony. There were many holes in the walls with the potential for turning them into Swift nest sites. Javier took our idea and used it innovatively to fashion attractive entrances in the walls of the castle.  

The method uses a 'former', an object the same size and shape as a Swift entrance.

2 formers
Inside each entrance is a space at least 15cm x 30cm.

The idea is a development of the Cambridge System, but instead of pre-casting entrance pieces, entrances are created in situ in the wall using the formers.

The pictures below show the results.

An entrance fashioned out of terracotta, with former still in place
A finished entrance

An entrance cast around the former
Some of the new entrances in the wall on the right


Monday, 23 May 2016

Beijing Swift Project 2016

On Saturday 21st May, we undertook the next stage of the Beijing Swift Project at the Summer Palace, here in Beijing. 

Some of the team
We succeeded in catching 10 birds with geolocators. 9 of these had good data, 6  from birds tagged in 2015 and 3 from birds tagged in 2014. 2 of these we had caught in 2015, but one was a new bird carrying 2 years worth of data.

So we now have 23 complete tracks, 14 of the 2014/15 migration and 9 of the 2015/16 migration. 

Preliminary analysis shows the birds doing similar things, with some interesting differences, in the 2 annual cycles.

The following is a video animation by Lyndon Kearsley of the results of the 2014-15 migrations. The gaps in the anmation occur in the periods near the equinoxes:


We also succeeded in fitting 46 new loggers of various types: GPS loggers, loggers with accelerometers and pressure sensors, as well as some more light level geolocators. These should give us more valuable information in 2017.

This year, the team comprised Lyndon Kearsley (Belgium), Susanne Åkesson (Lund University), Chris Hewson (BTO), Terry Townshend (Birding Beijing), Wu Lan (Beijing Forestry University), Robert Jolliffe and Dick Newell (Action for Swifts), as well as about 60 people form the China Birdwatching Society and Beijing Normal University led by Professor Zhao.

For more, with pictures, read Birding Beijing

Friday, 13 May 2016

"I am a Swift" now in Dutch and Greek

Since the recent adaptation and translation into French, we have now received copies in Dutch and, from Cyprus, in Greek.

Click to enlarge

Since we produced "I am a Swift - I am in trouble", in 2011, we did a second edition in 2015. There has been an Irish adaptation, called "We are Swifts - we are in trouble" as well as a French Version, and now it is in Dutch and Greek.

We are naturally delighted that an idea conceived by Helen Hodgson back in 2011 has now received such wide acceptance.

Our second edition is now out of print, and we are planning a 3rd English edition.

For the various editions, you can contact:

Sedbergh Community Swift project at St Andrew’s Church

When Dick went up the church tower with Edmund at St Andrew’s, Sedbergh, his comment was that ‘this is the most difficult tower I’ve come across yet. Pity it’s your first!’ The church is a good location to try, however, as swifts nest not far away in the eaves of Sedbergh School library. 

by Tanya & Edmund Hoare

St Andrews, Sedburgh 
And undeterred we went ahead, even though the design of box required was rather complex, and needed entrance tubes for the swifts.  The tower is not boarded on all sides. 

Luckily we had fantastic help from Nick, the local vet. Without his super carpentry skills this project could not have been accomplished.

Over the winter he and Edmund have spent many cold hours up the tower working out what to do. But finally the boxes have been installed behind the louvres of the west side, and an attraction call system has been fixed too.

The boxes could be fitted with cameras later.
All we need now is swifts!

The entrance tube is there to get through 2 layers of netting to the outside world

Nick installing the boxes, left, and the completed job, right.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Internal Swift boxes in a difficult situation

We have had external Swift boxes on our 17th century house since 2004, with 9 pairs in 2015. Being a listed building, the scope for internal boxes is limited, with just one possible location at the top of a gable end which was built about 50 years ago to replace what was a wooden dairy. 

by Dick Newell

There is no possibility of access to the roof space behind the gable. However a test hole showed that there was a cavity 100mm wide behind Dutch bricks 110mm wide. So, I reckoned we could fit a nest box spanning the cavity and 8cm of the outer wall, giving a floor area of 18cm by 25cm - big enough for a Swift box.

The wall is constructed of nicely selected reclaimed bricks of many textures and colours, so the challenge was how to produce forged brick entrance pieces which look the same.

I eventually took the plunge and we removed one brick from high up in the gable and cast a whole brick insert, 3cm thick out of white cement. A nest box was assembled in the cavity, ship-in-bottle fashion, out of cement fibre-board and glue. This is another variant of the Cambridge Swift Box System.

The internal length of the nesting chamber is 30cm in the cavity and 25cm in the outer wall. The head room is 14cm in the cavity and 7cm in the outer wall.

The first box we deemed a success, so 2 more bricks were removed and 2 more inserts were used, one made of a mixture of white and grey cement and the other the same, coated in crushed red-brick .

The 3 inserts looked a little different from the bricks around them, but with a judicious use of a used tea bag, coffee spread with a finger, and cement powder dotted liberally over the surface, a very good match was achieved.

If the Swifts like these first 3 nest boxes, then there is scope for at least another 2 boxes.

Much of the credit for this goes to Bill Murrells and his remarkable brick laying skills.
Old Beach Farm, Landbeach with 3 internal nestboxes at the top of the near gable
Close up of 3 entrances with forged bricks coloured to match the existing brickwork.
Note the tweeter below the alarm box
3 cast brick entrance inserts.
Components of the fibre-board box before assembly in the wall.
The overall internal length in the cavity is 30cm.
The first nest box completed, and the second brick removed ready for assembling the nest box.
The colour of the first box was a little too white, but tea bags and coffee toned it down.


Monday, 9 May 2016

Rt. Hon Theresa May MP opens first ever ‘swift hotel’ at Premier Inn in Maidenhead

We have previously reported on Swift nest boxes installed in the Cambridge Premier Inn. This was just one of a number of installations in Premier Inn Hotels.  Seldom does such a project achieve such a high profile as a visit by the Home Secretary herself to switch on the attraction calls, but this is what Jan Stannard achieved in Maidenhead. AfS played its part by advising on the configuration of the boxes within the structure of the building. The following is the official press release, illuminated by a few pictures from the day

·       The Home Secretary opens 20 new swift nest places which have been built into the structure of the new Premier Inn site in Maidenhead
·       Maidenhead and Cookham now holds the UK record for the most swift nesting places created in one year
·       People can find out more about putting up their own swift nesting boxes at

The home secretary switches the attraction calls on, supervised
by Premier Inn sustainability manager, Ben Brakes
Maidenhead, 6th May 2016 – The Home Secretary Rt. Hon Theresa May MP has today opened 20 new nesting places for swifts at the Premier Inn site in Maidenhead. The new hotel opened its doors to the public in November last year, and the nesting boxes were built in to the roof during construction.
Swifts visit the UK in the summer months to nest and breed, but local surveys suggest that their numbers have fallen by 50% in the past 20 years. Their nesting sites have steadily disappeared as roofs are refurbished and old buildings are knocked down.
To combat this decline Jan Stannard, a Maidenhead resident, formed the Maidenhead, Marlow and Cookham Swift Group in June 2015. Since then, 200 new swift nesting places have been created in local houses and churches to provide a home for breeding swifts in the area.
To support the Swift Group’s campaign, Maidenhead Premier Inn agreed to lodge 20 new nesting places in the roof of the hotel. In a first for Premier Inn swift boxes, one of the boxes has been fitted with a caller to mimic the call of a swift in an effort to encourage breeding pairs to use these new sites.

Ben Brakes, Premier Inn sustainability manager

Ben Brakes, Premier Inn Sustainability Manager, said:
‘Swifts are an iconic UK bird. Their arrival in our skies signifies the start of summer and the startlingly decline in their numbers is a real cause for concern. When Jan approached us there was a clear opportunity to build the nesting places into the new site. Hopefully our Premier Inn Maidenhead will house generations of swifts as they breed and raise their young.’

The Home Secretary, Theresa May

Rt Hon Theresa May MP, Home Secretary and Member of Parliament for Maidenhead, said:
‘I’m grateful to Maidenhead Premier Inn and the Swift Group for working together on this initiative. It is important that new buildings are developed with the natural environment in mind, and this is an excellent example of how this can work in practice. I hope this will be successful in supporting the swift population and reversing the decline in numbers that has been witnessed recently.’

Jan Stannard

Jan Stannard, founder of Maidenhead, Marlow and Cookham Swift Group, said:

‘I have nothing but praise for Premier Inn and Whitbread, whose response has been exemplary. From my first phone call highlighting the issue, the team and their building contractors worked positively and quickly to make the project happen. Now we hope that more localities will be able to work with them to give swifts the support they need around the country.’   

4 of the 20 nest box entrances, under the eaves, near to the wall.

Swift boxes at the BTO

When the Chris Mead library was conceived at BTO's headquarters, there had been a discussion about installing Swift boxes in recognition of everything that Chris had done in campaigning for Swifts. Chris was a pioneer, way ahead of his time, in recognising the problems that Swifts face and doing something about it.

In 2012, a conversation with Andy Clements, BTO director, reinvigorated the idea of installing Swift boxes at the Nunnery in Thetford. The most suitable buildings are Grade 2 listed, resulting in a protracted process, taking 4 years to get permission, and not inconsiderable expense. However, the persistence of David Agombar finally succeeded, so we, Action for Swifts, designed, built and installed 6 boxes on the east-facing chapel, together with an attraction call system and timer switch.

The requirements were for the boxes to be unobtrusive, to be painted a colour that matched the stonework and to not be attached to the stonework. It was also required that access doors be provided for BTO scientists to monitor the boxes for nest recording purposes.

The chapel has open eaves with protruding roof joists, providing a convenient space for boxes between adjacent pairs of joists. Two prototype boxes were built of which one, in discussion with the architect,  John Atkins of Thetford, was chosen as the template for the boxes.

The width and depth of these spaces varied widely so 6 custom made boxes were made, all with different dimensions. The paint used was Sandtex Mid Stone - a colour intended to match stonework.

The boxes are attached to the building by removing the bottom of the box, inserting 2 screws each side into the joists, then replacing the bottom.

Should Swifts occupy these boxes, then we have permission for 10 boxes, so a further 4 boxes may be added in the future.

The AfS team comprised Bruce Martin, Bill Murrells and Dick Newell

The following pictures should be self explanatory

6 boxes before installation

6 boxes installed

3 boxes at the north end, with tweeter on the left box

Close up of 1 box

Bill Murrells, Bruce Martin and David Agombar


Saturday, 7 May 2016

Some implementations of the Cambridge Swift Box System

The Cambridge Swift Box System is a method of installing internal nest boxes, by replacing a whole brick or half brick with a cast insert containing an entrance hole, with a nest box inside the building.  

We have now installed boxes in 8 houses with pleasing results in all cases (see examples - scroll down to see all examples). It is particularly straightforward in solid walls, at roof space level, where the headers go all of the way through the wall. Such walls typically have soft lime mortar, so removing a header is an easy job. Below are some pictures of the results from 3 such projects. In all cases, the boxes inside the roof space are a simple plywood construction, with a hinged inspection door.

The first example 
This came about when we were walking down Haddenham High Street and we spotted an old unused Zeist Swift box on a gable end. The owner was in the garden, so we engaged in conversation. There were 3 missing bricks in the wall above the Swift box, so we made the obvious suggestion to her, resulting in 3 new nest places for Swifts, instead of the Zeist box.

The original unoccupied Zeist box, exposed to sun and rain,
with 3 bricks missing from the wall

3 entrance pieces inserted
Close up

The second example
This is right next door to the first example, and was the reason we were walking down Haddenham High Street in the first place
The whole gable end, with 2 sets of 3 entrances

Close up of 3 entrances

The third example
This is an old vicarage in Longstanton.
6 entrances virtually invisible from a distance

Close up