When someone says they love how easy their swifts are to spot in their mud nest above the back door, you know they are going to love discovering the difference between a swallow and a swift. The birds are not related, albeit both species are UK-born and travel to Africa each year.
Swifts do not make mud nests; instead they use gaps under eaves and in pointing and cracks in stonework. In the Cairngorms, a few live in woodpecker holes in old pine trees. As shown in John Miles’ magical children’s book “Screamer the Swift” this species soon realised Roman villas were perfect for nesting in. For 2,000 years these enigmatic birds have swapped their cliff and tree dwelling to share our homes, but now the widespread demolition of old buildings and restoration of others are excluding them. Swifts return to the same site every year so they find it increasingly difficult to find their original nest site or a new one in which to breed.
And so it was that 20 years ago, we decided to help our ailing swift population. By working with local people and businesses we have made progress, but a great deal more is urgently needed. We rely on communities and individuals to adopt an area to survey for existing nest sites and suggest new nest box sites. Others can spend just one hour in July looking to the skies at 9pm to count how many swifts are flying nearby. This invaluable data is then shared on the Swift Mapper App which helps decide where to focus our work.
Over two decades we have safeguarded natural swift nest sites in villages and towns alike, making sure the information is input into the local authority Geographic Information System so planners are aware of them when planning applications are considered. Where we can install a specialist woodcrete nest box, these are provided - they last for 25 years and can attract swifts immediately or within 3 or 4 years, depending on other factors.
Until recently many new developments have overlooked the needs of our native species, including swifts. Now new planning applications often include a condition to integrate nest boxes into the properties themselves.
We don’t know if all this mitigation will slow the declining swift numbers, but with such good will towards these mysterious birds we continue working with those who care just as much as we do!
Hear John Miles’ books free online - YOUTUBE VIDEOS | johnmilo (chickbooks.co.uk)
First Sightings - https://www.taysidebiodiversity.co.uk/tayside-biodiversity-surveys/first-sightings/
Swift Mapper - https://www.natural-apptitude.co.uk/project/swift-mapper/
Tayside Swifts - https://www.taysidebiodiversity.co.uk/get-involved/projects/projects-swifts/
Swift Conservation UK (advice on building projects, types of nest box etc) - https://swift-conservation.org/
Concern for Swifts Scotland - https://concernforswifts.com/
Guidance - SNH Guidance for Planners, Builders, Architects & Community Groups – Tayside Biodiversity
Inspiration – Our first swift conservation project started in 2001 in Dundee – about the same time we started working with the Glasgow-based Concern for Swifts Scotland and London-based Swift Conservation UK. They have been inspirational throughout and we have joined with them whenever we can to spread the word. The Provost of Angus, Cllr Ronnie Proctor, has been our Swift Champion for the past few years and we have had the pleasure of working with many enthusiastic local community groups, in many cases adding a swift focus to their wider projects or helping groups set up their own independent swift initiatives.
Along the way – Tayside Swifts - which is an interest group of the Tayside Biodiversity Partnership - has undertaken small-scale projects whenever funding has become available. So far Swift conservation projects have taken place in the Carse of Gowrie, the Pitlochry area, Strathearn, Stanley, Kinross, Crieff, the Tay Landscape Partnership area, Forfar, Kirriemuir, Edzell and Carnoustie.
As we work with local community groups, businesses and schools each project is different, but there is a common thread running through all the projects – a major concern that our Scottish-born swifts are in trouble, losing their homes to renovation and demolition and now with climate change, suffering from overly wet summers or droughts and a lack of nearby food. Their arrival back to their place of birth used to be at the beginning of May: now it is very variable as to when they get home. They always used to leave during the first week of August, but again this is changing and is tending to be later. However if the weather is poor they have been known to leave much earlier to the detriment of their fledglings.
We encourage everyone to use our first sightings survey postcards, leaflets and newsletters; we are proud of everyone’s input, especially the local communities and businesses who are keen to be involved. We choose a Swift Volunteer of the Year and present them with a colourful certificate. Our Facebook page is popular and through that we work with groups across the UK and Europe, taking part in the International Swift Conference and events such as World Swift Day and Swift Awareness Week. Tayside Swifts is a member of the UK Swifts Local Network - actionforswifts.blogspot.co.uk.
Looking back – all along we needed larger-scale funding to have a dedicated Swift Conservation Officer. However, the projects we have achieved would not have happened without regular donations and grants from Hillcrest Housing Association, Perth & Kinross Quality of Life Trust, the SITA Tayside Biodiversity Action Fund, Kirriemuir Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme, Andie Miller Trust, Angus Council Town Centre Fund and the Perth & Kinross Community Environment Challenge Fund. We have now been granted Nature Restoration Funds for a Homes for Wildlife project which will provide nest boxes to Perth and Kinross Council properties. We’re not planning on stopping any time soon!
created Swift Best Practice guidance for NatureScot and Swift Priority Zones with local planners...