Save Our Swifts – A Conservation Project for Cornwall

Update, 29/03/20: Please note that due to Coronavirus restrictions at this stage in the spring there is a degree of uncertainty on what we will be able to achieve with the project this year. It is possible that since Swifts are late nesters we may have an opportunity to carry out surveying this year. In any case please still look at what you can do with nestboxes (link page below) and bear in mind that this project will likely be a two year project.

Parties of screaming Swifts around our towns and villages on a balmy summers evening are one of the defining sights and sounds of summer, along with the hum of bees in a flower-filled garden and perhaps the joyful cries of children on the beach. But not all is well; our Swifts are in trouble. Their numbers have plummeted by 57% nationally since 1995, have been amber listed since 2009, and could well be heading for the red list at the next review. The causes of this decline are complex but it seems that a lack of suitable nest sites is a major contributing factor.

Common Swift breeding background

Swifts usually nest in colonies in our towns and villages under the eaves of buildings and in cracks and crevices in older stone walls. The nest is composed of air-borne materials collected on the wing such as feathers, fluff and plant materials glued together with saliva to form a cup to hold the eggs and later the one to three young swiftlings.

Swift nest boxes on side of house – Baku (Phil Abbott)

Changes in modern building practice such as the fitting of plastic soffit boards, and filling up cracks and holes when renovating older buildings have been instrumental in leading to the dramatic decline in Swift numbers. However, the decline can be reversed with the provision of artificial nesting boxes, both internal and external, as proven in a number of towns and cities in the UK and even abroad.

Nest boxes to specific designs can easily be made, and special ‘swift bricks’ can even be purchased for direct and easy insertion into a new build house wall or renovation. As Swifts are clean (they don’t deposit droppings on the ground below their nest site), there is every good reason to encourage them and to expand existing colonies.

 

The Swift Project in Cornwall

So what can we do to help? Cornwall Birds (CBWPS) are organising and co-ordinating ‘Save Our Swifts’, a countywide project this year involving our members, other conservation groups in the county and the wider general public in helping our swifts. This will involve

  1. Promoting awareness of Swifts and their plight in the County.
  2. Running a Countywide survey this summer to monitor our breeding Common Swifts.
  3. Working to build and install 100 artificial nestboxes in Cornwall for this breeding season.

We will also be working to –

  1. Promote and encourage the inclusion of internal nestboxes in all new builds and renovations in the county.
  2. Encourage the use of the Swift Mapper App as an easy tool for those with a smart phone to submit records while out and about.
  3. Promote links with other organisations and communities across the UK who are working hard to conserve Swifts (see links below).

How you can get involved.

We will be launching the project before Easter with ‘Swift 100’ where we aim to install 100 Swift nestboxes across the county over the Easter weekend. You can either make your own with a few simple DIY skills or buy a commercially-built one. We will be providing more information on this, including nest box building instructions and nestbox-building sessions on the website soon.

Common Swift in Cornwall – S Williams

Throughout May, June and July we will need volunteers to survey as many Swift colonies in the county as possible. CBWPS and local BTO members, other conservation groups and the general public will all be able to contribute to this important part of the project.This will involve recording both nest sites on buildings and the presence of ‘screaming parties’ in residential and other built up areas. Priority will be given to the areas where Swifts were confirmed breeding or ‘probably breeding’ during the Cornwall Bird Atlas survey work of 2001-2010. We also be revisiting Cornish locations reported to the RSPB National Swift survey between 2016 and 2019. (Our survey will be run along the lines of the existing RSPB Swift Survey, and we will be feeding our results into this ongoing survey). More details will follow, and the survey will be promoted on social media and elsewhere. Watch this space!

Additionally there will be a programme of displays, walks, talks and other events to raise awareness across the County, with Swift Awareness Week running from 27th June to 5th July 2020.

Everyone has something to offer and to find out more email us at swifts@cbwps.org.uk or look out for updates on the website and on social media. Working together we can all help to Save Our Swifts!

Specific Swift pages – These are the important links – read further to find out more and to take part. We will be updating and all should be complete within the next couple of weeks;

*Swift 100 Nestbox building and project page – now live 05/03*

Cornwall Swift Survey 2020 – more coming soon

Swifts and the Building industry – help and factsheets – coming soon

Swift fact sheet and schools activity handout – coming soon

 

Useful Links and Organizations

Specific links and local projects-

 

This is a joint project in Cornwall, involving Cornwall Birds, BTO (British Trust for Ornithology), CWT (Cornwal Wildlife Trust) and others.

 Cornwall Save Our Swifts, Feb 2020

Additional photographs – Tony Blunden