As you may have heard, our swifts are struggling. It is believed that the UK population of swifts has declined by 35% since 1995. Whilst the reasons for many of our bird declines are still unclear, we can be fairly confident that the main cause in the decline in this species is the loss of nesting sites, as modern housing excludes swifts from roof spaces.
Happily, many organisations including Swift Conservation and the RSPB are working hard to address this issue and to make our urban landscape more swift friendly. There are a number of specially designed swift bricks and swift boxes that can be fitted into new buildings easily and cheaply. Where these have been installed on a large scale they have been shown to be very successful in establishing new nesting colonies.
I recently met with Rebecca Pitman who is the RSPB’s new Swift Cities Project Officer. Part of her remit is to develop a network of swift cities across the UK – places where all major development includes nesting opportunities for swifts (and other species). So far, Belfast and Exeter are registered as Swift Cities…wouldn’t it be great if we could add Milton Keynes to the list in time?
For now, the best way to help is to contribute to the RSPB’s database of nesting sites. Some of the older parts of Milton Keynes still support swift colonies. You can help by visiting the website at http://rspb.org.uk/swiftsurvey and logging your sightings of nesting swifts. Just make a note of date and time of any swifts you see entering or leaving a nest and enter these details with a grid reference. Remember that the hour before dusk is often the best time to look and listen for swifts, when they emerge from their nest sites and ‘swarm’. You can hardly miss them as they fly overhead in tight formation, screaming as they go!
If any members have a deeper interest in swifts and their conservation and might be interested in becoming involved in a local action group for the species, please let me know.