The origins of the concept go back to 2014 when Judith Wakelam wished to add more nesting places on the gable end of her bungalow after having success with an external nest box. Bill Murrells came up with the idea of making a Swift entrance piece to replace a half brick in the wall. 3 such entrances were installed, and since then Swifts have bred in one of them and have explored the other 2.
Bill's entrance pieces were fabricated out of pieces of clay air brick liner; we have implemented one other project using this idea. Since then we have found it simpler to cast the entrance pieces using a simple mould. A further 7 projects have been completed using cast entrance pieces, mostly half-brick sized and one with a whole brick sized entrance.
Extensions of the idea by casting entrances in situ have also been completed, one such project in Spain resulting in 100 nest places in a castle.
There are case studies of all these projects here
In all cases, the final result is attractive and neat, giving secure accommodation for Swifts. The approach has been labelled "The Cambridge System". [We hope that the Cambridge System itself will be commercialised soon].
At this point, on a visit to Cambridge by John Day of the RSPB he thought that the concept might be of interest to Barratt Homes. RSPB and Barratt have a partnership agreement. In October 2015, a meeting was arranged with Technical and Design Director Michael Finn. Michael carefully assessed what we showed him, and commented that when they put accessories, such as ventilation grills, in walls they use injection moulded products and he asked whether it would be possible to have an injection moulded Swift box.
It so happens that, in 2013, we had looked at the potential of an injection moulded Swift box so we produced a computer model of what we thought would be a simple, cheap and unobtrusive injection moulded Swift box.
I dug this out and sent it off where it ended up with the design engineers at Manthorpe Building Products, who immediately understood what was required and produced a first design, including their own innovative ideas.
On a visit to Manthorpe's offices in early December 2015, Paul Stephen, RSPB, and I were shown a complete 3D-printed prototype. The level of thought put into the detail was impressive.
A few iterations later and the product has now been launched and the first examples have already been installed.
Injection moulds are expensive, but the per unit costs are low. So it took a fair bit of courage to commit to an untried and untested design. There would have been no other way of exploring this approach.
This project would not have happened without the partnership between Barratt Homes and RSPB. You can read the RSPB press release.
We look forward to hearing about the first occupants of these revolutionary new Swift boxes.