Sunday, 20 May 2018

Lymington Business Centre. creating a Safe Environment for Swifts

Thank you to Nick Windibank and Andy Broadhurst of Hampshire Swifts for sending us this story.

Lymington Business Centre
Lymington Business Centre occupies a building which was renovated in 1986 from its original use as a squash club. It consists of three storeys, the top level being of a wooden frame construction which has eaves on two sides with protruding rafters and is clad in slate.

The building is known to us due to its association with what are known locally as the “library Swifts” which form large groups over and above the nearby library but which we now know nest in some of the gaps above the slate cladding on the Business Centre. 

Slates showing where a Swift was trapped
In the winter of 2017 it was noted that there was what seemed to be nest material adhering to some of the slates and this was investigated as there was concern Swifts could get entangled.

It quickly became apparent that this material was in fact the corpses of two Swifts and a Starling, which had the misfortune to get trapped in the vertical gaps between some of the slates. We subsequently found out that a nearby resident had called the fire brigade on one occasion to free a bird caught in this way.

Having the opportunity to examine the spaces between the rafters we determined that additional nest sites could easily be created by attaching mounting bars to each rafter and then screwing a horizontal sheet to create the base of a nest site.

An example of 2 exposed rafters
showing the potential to create a nest site
Each sheet would have a nest hole and then be painted to match the rafters so rendering the whole assembly virtually invisible to passers-by. The original plan was to survey the two eaves in the summer of 2018 to determine which gaps already had Swifts nesting in them and then, during the close season, create new nest sites in the spaces not already used by Swifts or other species.

Examples of nest sites created between rafters
Concerned about the possibility that more Swifts would get trapped in 2018 we brought forward the plan, relying on the man on the ladder to determine whether or not there were gaps in the structure which could be used by Swifts. If not, then they were converted to new design Swift nesting sites. If so, they were left.

In this way 18 gaps on the rear aspect and 10 on the side aspect were converted to new nest sites, complementing those already present. At the same time all the gaps between the slates were sealed making it impossible for birds to get trapped in future.

To avoid disturbance to the tenants of the Business Centre, work could only proceed at weekends and in the evening and so progress was slow, especially on the side aspect when scaffolding was required to gain access to theeaves. The final nest site was created on the 7th May and birds were already entering some of the retained original nest sites.

This summer we will check out the occupancy of the remaining potential sites to determine what the baseline occupancy is, in the hope that in future years this building will develop into a major colony.

Thanks are due to Don Mackenzie, the owner of the Business Centre who enthusiastically supported this work and made a significant contribution towards our costs, Tim Norriss who designed the nest sites and Roger Maynard, roofer extraordinaire who actually did the work come rain or shine. Thanks are also due to Waitrose Lymington branch which, through their Community Matters scheme, raised a total of £ 451 for this project.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Trumpington Meadows Nature Reserve

Trumpington Meadows is a spacious expanse of flowering meadows, riverside, woodland, hedgerow and parkland. 

According to their website:

"... this expansive nature reserve and country park sits alongside the River Cam and Byron’s Pool Local Nature Reserve, straddling both sides of the M11. Created for wildlife and for people, it is a place to discover and enjoy nature, explore diverse habitats and wander by the river and through flower-filled meadows. There is a Wildlife Trust office and garden, allotments, and a range of interpretation features and hand-carved nature sculptures throughout the site. "

Trumpington Meadows is managed by Beds, Cambs and Northants Wildlife Trust

Action for Swifts was approached to see if it might be possible to increase the biodiversity of the site by installing nest boxes for Swifts. Initially, a Swift Tower was considered, but given that the offices on site included a high gable, it was decided to build a 10-box triangle colony box instead.

At the same time, in the year of Swift Awareness Week, Nature Picture Library was looking for a Swift project suitable for sponsorship. So what better, a high profile location on the outskirts of Cambridge with an ideal building for installing Swift boxes, and a benefactor looking for a Swift project to support.

Nature Picture Library makes a regular contribution to a small charity or specific project which is making a difference. They choose a different charity every three months. You can read about them here: and about some of the projects that they have supported here:

AfS has previously implemented triangular colony boxes containing 3, 5, 6 and 9 nesting chambers. With its shallow roof (30°), we decided to go for 10 nest chambers this time. It is a proven concept as most implementations so far have nesting Swifts.

We used this project as an opportunity to progress our attempts to determine whether Swifts prefer a dark or light interior. Half of the boxes are painted black inside.

Having carefully assessed the risks and devised a safe method of work, the body of the cabinet, weighing nearly 20kg, was installed by 3 people lifting it up 3 ladders. The central ladder had a reinforced standoff platform, which was raised every time the cabinet was raised. Finally, the middle person climbed the middle ladder to put the screws in while the 2 on the sides held it in place. The screws were carefully positioned in line with the internal timbers Then the front was screwed on. It all went very smoothly. 

A camera is installed in the top chamber, as this is the most likely to be occupied first, and all of the other chambers have been prepared for cameras if and when Swifts move into them. A tweeter for attraction calls is installed out of the weather under the box.

[At the time of writing, Swifts have already been seen approaching the boxes]

Front removed, ready for installation. Half the nest chambers are painted black.

A good height in a northerly facing aspect
Frontal view
Oblique view

Tweeter, installed out of the weather, and AV cable.


Monday, 7 May 2018

The boys are back in town!

John Day was inspired today when the first Swifts showed up in Potton - on schedule on 7th May. So he decided to parody Thin LIzzy's song, "the boys are back in town" with the following lyrics:

"Guess who just got back today
Them wild-eyed swifts that had been away
Haven't changed that much to say
But man, I still think them swifts are crazy
They were askin' if their nests were around
How they was, where they could be found
Told 'em there were some still downtown
That haven't been blocked up today
The swifts are back in town
(The swifts are back in town)...... "

Thank you John! It captures the moment perfectly.

Friday, 4 May 2018

Successful Project with a Derbyshire school and housing agency

This is a good story in the year of Swift Awareness Week
by Nick Brown

Last autumn a meeting was arranged by the Derbyshire Swift Conservation Project with Rykneld Homes with additional support from Derbyshire Wildlife Trust. Rykneld manages the social housing for NE Derbyshire District Council.

An Ibstock Swift brick
While most of their work is maintaining the 8000 houses they have already, occasionally they build new properties. Jude Milburn, Rykneld’s Community Involvement Officer, attended the meeting and took up the Swift cause. Liaising closely with us, he worked to get internal Swift boxes put in nine of the 50 houses in a new social housing development in North Wingfield, close to the village school (with some bat boxes in addition).

He also arranged for the Project to meet Rachael Peacock, the head teacher at the newly built village school. We explained how Swifts would make a great learning topic for the children – an idea she embraced enthusiastically. In addition, Jude gave her six Swift boxes to put up on the school. On 20th April, Rykneld organised a small ceremony to mark the completion of the new houses.

Swift boxes in 6 country colours
On a lovely sunny afternoon, thirty children from the school joined in by painting their six boxes in the colours of the flags of some of the countries the birds fly over on migration to and from Africa (Spain, Morocco, Ghana etc). This novel idea was first dreamed up by Ian Carstairs in Harleston, Norfolk so we can’t claim it as our own!

The children worked enthusiastically and the boxes will be put up on the school as soon as possible.

There are Swifts nesting in the village and we hope Rachael will be able to get the children to ask their parents if they know where, prior to us doing some survey work in the summer.

In addition, some of the children from the school will be moving into the new houses. Should they move into the ones with Swift boxes, Jude will ensure that they are made aware of their boxes and the reasons they were installed. Ideally we hope Jude will be able to engage with all the new tenants and to that end we will be providing him with copies of the new AfS leaflet and booklet to hand out.

Engaging the next generation

Job done!

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Swift boxes in a rendered cavity wall

In a rendered wall, one cannot see the brick structure, so doing a neat job, as in the Cambridge System, is not an option.

Christina Day had 9 Swift boxes in the gable of her house in Haverhill (see here). Circumstances conspired so that she had to move to Lode, leaving four occupied boxes behind. Her new home is a one storey house on the end of a terrace with a gable 6 metres high.

So we inserted 6 boxes in her gable by using a 78mm diameter core drill (acquired from Screwfix) through the render and outer leaf and a 107mm core drill through the inner leaf. The entrance was reduced with mortar to a half-moon 30mm high, with a ramp across the width of the outer leaf.

The 50mm cavity is bridged with a 100mm pipe.

The risks in this project were that we could have hit a wall tie, or the render could have been laid on steel mesh - but fortunately we encountered neither of these.

We did not anticipate that the bricks in the outer leaf would have a 'frog' facing down, leaving holes in the entrance passage which needed making good ('frog' = a depression made in a brick). Nor did we anticipate the state of the inner leaf, with much of the mortar loose, needing substantial repointing.

6 neat holes in the gable
6 installed Swift boxes with a satisfied Bill Murrells
Close up of entrance exterior
Close up of entrance interior
Installed Swift box, with perspex back and cover removed.

Section through computer model
Tool used to fashion entrances

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Internal boxes in a wooden garage gable

This was a situation requiring custom internal boxes, because of the internal timberwork. Apart from this, the project was straightforward.

The north-facing gable of this South Cambs garage is just over 5 metres high.

The entrance holes were made using a simple jig to drill 5 small holes 1cm apart, so the distance between the first and last holes was 4cm. Then a 28mm hole saw was used in all 5 positions, making sure it could get as far as possible into the wall, without going all the way through. Eventually one does burst through on the inside, and then one can finish the job with a flle making a very neat job.

Steel plates were used to make the entrances woodpecker-proof - also Starlings are more than capable of enlarging holes in softwood. The plates were left over from a batch produced to starling-proof the Cambridge Swift Tower.

Piano hinges and simple turn buttons were used for the inspection doors.

3 double boxes before installation
6 entrances in the gable
Close up of entrances, showing canopies and anti-woodpecker steel plates
3 double boxes installed
Demonstration of hinged inspection door

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Cambridge System in a timber frame gable

In 2017 we were alerted to a situation in Isleham where a garage was about to be demolished while there was still a pair of Swifts feeding a chick in the roof. Confronted with a large steel ball, we took the pragmatic (though possibly illegal) approach, of removing the chick for fostering, which was successfully accomplished by Judith Wakelam.

The garage was demolished to make way for a new development of 4 houses, providing 5 suitable gables for Swift boxes. The company hired to assess the environmental impact detected 1 bat leaving the garage, but did not detect the Swifts.

However, the enlightened developer was more than willing to install 10 Swift boxes, 2 in each gable.

The building is timber frame, similar to the Fulbourn internal nest box design. but different from anything that we have previously tackled.

The structure of the walls behind the gables in the roof-space is: brick 102.5mm, empty cavity 50mm, silver-coated plywood 9mm, studs (4" x 2”) 100mm. There is no insulation.

It may have been possible to embed a suitably chosen Swift brick in the outer wall (provided it was less than 152.5mm from front to back, but we chose to recommend a version of the Cambridge System. This is a low cost simple way of accommodating Swifts by securing a nest box inside the roof space between the studs, flush with the plywood.

It comprises:
A half-brick entrance piece: the bricks either side of the entrance piece need to be trimmed by 56mm to leave a space122mm wide.
A piece of nominal 4” pipe, ~115mm long, trimmed to fit in the outer leaf
A simple plywood box, with no front, outside dimensions w350 x d162 x h150mm
A concave nest platform, glued to the floor of the box.
A nominal 4 inch hole is required in the plywood

The box is secured with battens across the studs..

Model of the outside

Model of the inside


System components
2 installed Swift boxes and 1 bat box. Photo Judith Wakelam

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Please support a worthwhile project

Yusuph Emmanuel (© Martine Wauters)

Action for Swifts is supporting a project to enable a talented young Tanzanian, Yusuph Emmanuel, to travel to the International Swift Conference in Tel Aviv in March.

AfS has agreed to enable UK people to make contributions via its Paypal link and bank account.
[Update - this appeal is now closed - we raised £575 - so Yusuph goes to Tel Aviv - THANK YOU! 

Martine has put a report of Yusuph's visit to Tel Aviv on her blog - use Google Translate to read it in English]

All monies received by AfS will be forwarded to the project.

Other methods of making payments (cheques and bank transfer) to AfS are described herePlease provide a clear reference to "Project Yusuph" with any payment.

For payments outside the UK, please contact Martine

Martine Wauters, whose initiative this is, describes the rationale behind this idea:

I'm contacting you with a call for financial support for an amazing Swift supporter from the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) in Tanzania, to whom I would like to give the opportunity of participating in the next International Swift Conference in Tel Aviv.

As some of you may know, Dr Jane Goodall has been supporting my transcontinental Swift projects for years. In 2017, she asked her Tanzanian director to contact me in order to support my “Swifts Without Frontiers” initiative. Last July, I had the honour of making an "inspirational talk" to international "youth leaders" of her Roots & Shoots (R&S) network (a very successful worldwide youth programme), during a yearly summit in Windsor.

One of those 10 delegates, selected out of over 100,000 R&S groups, was Yusuph Emanuel, a 33 year-old Tanzanian from Kigoma. Yusuph had been a very dedicated R&S volunteer since 2000. Since his graduation from the Shinyanga Teachers College in 2013, he has been volunteering for the JGI in Kigoma, in various projects such as planting trees in schools, providing environmental education, raising awareness and love of animals and pursuing other community development activities.

After my presentation, Yusuph was immediately eager to support Swift conservation. Since his return to Tanzania last August, he has been leading an impressive awareness-raising campaign, talking with passion to over 2,500 students, and leading field study expeditions.

Swifts killed by villagers in the region of Kigoma
© Yusuph Emmanuel (R&S Tanzania)
During that field work, he's been finding out about regular cases of massive killing of various species of Swifts and Swallows, that have been traditionally eaten by the local population. He has not only been documenting and reporting this to me, but he's also been fighting with diplomacy and dedication to try and find a sustainable solution.

By helping him to go to Tel Aviv, you would not only allow him to learn a lot during the conference, but also to meet potential partners for future Swift and Swallow conservation in Tanzania. He could also participate with me in some school activities near Tel Aviv, and to be JGI's ambassador at the Swift Welcoming Ceremony, where he would represent R&S partner groups from Belgium, Spain, Scotland and South Africa (a.o.) who have all been participating in my Swifts without Frontiers projects.

He would be the first ever representative from sub Saharan Africa to participate in such a conference, which could open promising perspectives for Swift conservation in the area where those birds spend 9 months of the year, with no or very little conservation measures.

The aim of Swifts Without Frontiers is to help to support such initiatives and transcontinental partnerships in order to know and protect Swifts better throughout their range. As an active member of a world-wide programme dedicated to animal and environment protection, as well as to education and peace promotion, I’m convinced that Yusuph deserves massive support from the “Northern Swift Community”.

You can help by donating funds to cover his accommodation and travel expenses (or « frequent flier miles » if you have some from Air France).  We are still working out costs, but they are likely to be of the order of £1000.

Should there be any funds left over after paying for Yusuph’s trip to Tel Aviv they will be reserved for projects to support Swift and Swallow protection in Tanzania. A nation-wide campaign is being prepared by JGI Tanzania, with the help of Swifts Without Frontiers and the Dar Es Salam University.

You can find more pictures of Yusuph and his activities on my blog:
Anyone willing to help can contact Martine in private for practical details.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

2018 UK Swift Awareness Week, 16-23 June

For an event near you look on the Swift Awareness map.

16th - 23rd June 2018

One for your summer diary: the new national ‘2018 UK Swift Awareness Week’, 16 - 23 June 2018 As we count the days until our wonderful Swifts are back in our skies again, we’re delighted to let you know about an exciting development for 2018.

This summer, Britain will become the first country in the world to dedicate a national week in support of Swifts.

Swift Awareness Week will run from 16 - 23 June. There will be events and publicity all around the country, organised by dozens of local Swift groups. These events aim to raise awareness of Swifts and bring a focus to their plight, and of course provide information about how to help them. The Swift is one of the few endangered species that individuals really can help in their own property and there are many groups across the country working hard to try to halt their dramatic decline of 50% in just 20 years.

Some of the events that you might find happening near you are:

1. An evening walk to show people Swifts, led by a local expert.
2. A talk about swifts in a local hall.
3. An evening informal gathering at a house that has Swifts nesting.
4. An ‘open garden’ event with displays about Swifts and ideally Swifts nesting within sight.
5. A parade down a street with Swift flags and more.
6. A celebration of the Swifts and the long journeys they will be making in May and July/August at a local school.
7. A Swift stall/display at a local event or in the local library or community centre.
8. A Swift stall set up in the local church/community centre/school.
9. A combination of two or more of the above – or something completely different.

As we become aware of planned events we will publish them in the AfS Swift events diary

Of course if there is nothing near you, why not plan your own Swift event to join our busy calendar of events? Please send details to where you can also request further information.