First Broads swift tower built to boost numbers

A rapid decline in the number swifts could be reversed with the first special nesting tower for the vulnerable species to be built in the Broads.

The number of breeding swifts in the UK has almost halved between 1995 and 2015, placing the bird on the amber list of Birds of Conservation Concern.

Conservation organisations believe that this steep decline is partly due to popular nesting sites in buildings being lost during renovations, as well as a halving in the number of insects – the staple food of the swift – since 1975.

To help the swifts, the Broads Authority, supported by visitor giving scheme Love the Broads, has today (Friday 5 May) built a tower with 20 nest chambers at Whitlingham Country Park.

Andrea Kelly, Broads Authority Senior Ecologist, said: “One of the Authority’s duties relates to conservation and as part of this, we want to keep the sky over the Broads alive with swifts.

“At Whitlingham we are lucky to have plenty of insects in the meadows and woodland and near the water, so it’s a great place for birds such as swifts to feed and breed.”

Swifts catch insects in the air, as well as drifting spiders too, as they fly around at high speed.

As global travellers they also return from their wintering grounds in Africa to the same spot each year to breed, usually in buildings in gaps under roof tiles and eaves.

If buildings are sealed up or renovated swifts may return to discover that their nest site has gone but they are cautious about entering new spaces for fear of predators.

At Whitlingham, however, natural swift calls will be played to attract the birds to the nests and each chamber also has a nest cup and a few feathers to help them settle in.

There are also plans to install video cameras in future years so that their progress can be followed and the public get a chance to see swifts up close.

It is part of an ongoing programme of public engagement at Whitlingham and in the wider Broads, which boasts more than a quarter of the UK’s rarest wildlife – more than any other national park.

Peter Howe from the Broads Trust, the charity that runs the Love the Broads fundraising scheme, said the charity was delighted to support the initiative.

“We supported this project with a grant because the decline in numbers of this truly remarkable bird and the effect on the biodiversity of the Broads is worrying. Something to directly help boost those numbers is an important project. The new swift tower also provides an opportunity for the public to see wildlife up close and learn about its importance which is even better.”

Andrea also asked people to look out for ‘screaming parties’ of low-flying swifts or nesting sites.

She said: “Screaming groups of swifts flying at roof-top height means they're probably breeding nearby. Reports of these and any sightings of swifts nesting will help our knowledge so that more nest sites can be provided.

“If you want to do even more, you might be able to fix some swift nest boxes to the outside of your home as swifts don’t create a mess on the ground.”

You can send details of swift sightings to www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/conservation/conservation-projects/swifts

Friday 5 May 2017