Buckingham Swifts

I was very interested to read all about the activities of MK Swifts in the Summer 2019 “Magpie”. Living at Gawcott, near Buckingham, I am a little too far outside MK Swifts’ catchment area to make a meaningful contribution so I operate as Buckingham Swifts. I find that the most productive study is that carried out on one’s home patch and thus I am getting to know Gawcott’s swifts really well. Gawcott has an unusual “problem” with swifts – we have a huge main colony and at least one secondary colony BUT the big colony is in a horribly dilapidated property. This property is occupied by an elderly couple who have lifetime rights of occupation but there is a messy legal tangle to come when they pass away. The property is falling down around their ears and the assumption is that when they do pass on, the property will be sold for millions to a developer and torn down and redeveloped (yes, it has been reported to BMERC but at best this could only mitigate, not stop, redevelopment). Gawcott swifts thus have plenty of nest sites, they don’t really need my nestbox and accordingly I have not yet succeeded in getting it occupied.

I network with other swift enthusiasts nationwide and use the website Swift Conservation a lot. This is a not for profit organisation run by Edward Meyer.  The site is packed with useful information and has a section for “local experts and groups”. You will see that both Milton Keynes Swifts and Buckingham Swifts are listed here.

Back in summer 2018, I was surprised to be contacted by a lady who asked me “in your capacity as Secretary of Buckinghamshire Swifts” could I design her some swift boxes to install in her church tower. This came as rather a surprise, particularly since there is no such thing as “Buckinghamshire Swift Group” and I would not even be able to put a shelf up! However, through a Swift Conservation affiliate group called Action for Swifts (AfS), I knew of a genius designer called Dick Newell who I put the enquirer in touch with. I did very little else than “signpost” (and organise a crowdfunding appeal to fund the materials) but off they all went and produced a fantastic result at Dinton (near Aylesbury) church.
I have included the text of the report that was eventually posted on the AfS webpage.

Thursday, 28 March 2019
Dinton Church

This is a job particularly well done, so should be an inspiration to others. Back in August 2018 Sue Hetherington got in touch about swift boxes in the belfry of Saints Peter & Paul in Dinton, Bucks. The belfry has large louvres, more widely spaced than normal, meaning that 2 levels of entrances could fit between each pair of louvres. (We did something like this in St Mary’s, St Neots).

After batting photos and measurements back and forth we, AfS, suggested a configuration (see below) which has been very competently adapted and implemented by carpenter Nick Deschamps, resulting in 16 new nest boxes in the belfry. Rosemary Jackson takes up the story:

The Church of SS Peter & Paul, Dinton

The Church of SS Peter & Paul, Dinton

“The idea for installing swift nest boxes in our village church was triggered by three incidents in 2017.

We went to the Rutland Bird fair in August 2017 and there we saw the Action for Swifts display. An enthusiastic carpenter had brought the front of a bank of nest boxes which he told us fitted in his church tower and had attracted a new colony of swifts to his village.

Also, in 2017 there was a study group amongst the churches in my area about the idea of the Eco Church and how we could make our churches more environmentally friendly.

The next summer I found out that the only nest site for swifts in my area had been blocked up and we were then very concerned that we would not get swifts back in the village. Happily, one pair nested somewhere because we had five swifts screaming around the village in August and giving us such great pleasure as they always do.

I decided that I would act to promote swifts somehow. I wrote a book about a family of swifts for young children and an artist friend illustrated it. By amazing serendipity her husband had just retired and was looking for a project to pursue and the challenge of making swift nest boxes and installing them in the church tower fired his imagination.

The Church of SS Peter & Paul, Dinton - 16 boxes installed

The Church of SS Peter & Paul, Dinton – 16 boxes installed

We realized very quickly that this was no straightforward project. After examining the Action for Swifts website and contacting a Bucks Bird Club friend we were put in touch with Dick Newell who developed a plan of 16 nest boxes to fit our very ancient church louvres inside the bell chamber. Nick set to work on the carpentry and all the winter of 2018/2019 worked on 4 banks of 4 nest boxes. Eventually when the weather got warmer, we were able to try a model in the bell chamber, and eventually mid-March fitted the real things, even putting chicken feathers in the nesting cups to get the swifts started on the soft furnishings.

At the beginning of May we plan to start playing the screaming swift family calls to alert swifts coming back from Africa that there are nest boxes here inviting occupancy.

We also plan that, should we be fortunate enough to attract out own family of swifts we will fit a camera into the nesting box and arrange a CCTV so that we can have a birdwatching day with the local school children, setting up telescopes and a laptop with live pictures and information on this amazing miracle bird.

British wildlife is truly wonderful!

Rosemary Jackson, Church warden

Funnily enough, this project did have an effect on MK Swifts. Martin Kincaid had been approached by Newport Pagnell church where they also wanted to put swift nestboxes in the tower. Martin came along and looked at the Dinton project and was suitably impressed (the carpenter had done an incredible job) He tried to contact Newport Pagnell again but the interest seemed to have withered on the vine. However, he knew that the school opposite The Cock at Stony Stratford wanted to put boxes up so he took up this project instead. He asked Andrew Hetherington to construct 4 boxes which he was pleased to do (and to kindly donate). These boxes, plus, I believe some purchased ones are now installed at the school, as reported in the MK Swifts report.

To date, I am not aware of any take up by swifts of any of the new boxes but this is to be expected. It would normally take a minimum of 2 years before swifts will take to new boxes – even with a calling system in operation.

Speaking of AfS, the group have organised the second annual Swift Awareness Week (SAW). This is taking place from 22nd to 30th June 2019. An eclectic series of events will be taking place nationwide and some national publicity will hopefully begin soon – maybe even Chris Packham will be kind enough to mention it again on “Springwatch”! Click here for the Swift Conservation  events map

There will be a small pop up display at the Bucks County Museum in Aylesbury which some of you may care to have a look at if you find yourself in the town during the period.

I’ve not listed “The Crown” at Gawcott as a SAW event but I’d be pleased to meet anyone there during the swift season for a “swift half”. The big colony at the next door building can be observed from there. Late evening on a fine summer’s evening is a recommended time, leading up to around 9pm.

Text by Sue Hetherington 6 June 2019

Click here to read Sue’s article on Swift Awareness Week 2019

Photo at top of page  – Swift at Willen Lake ©Chris Ward

All other photos ©Action for Swifts

Oxford Natural History Museum Swift webcam