A CALL has gone out to West Sussex residents to help the humble swift this summer.
RSPB South East’s annual swift search kicks off again this month, to help build a better picture of where the birds are still seen so that nest sites can be protected.
Swifts have declined by a third in recent years and they have been placed on the amber list, meaning they are of serious conservation concern.
The loss of nest sites due to building improvement or demolition is a major problem.
Swifts nest on buildings, especially old structures with lots of gaps and nooks. But these cavities are increasingly being blocked up in old buildings, while new buildings often lack them altogether.
Christina MacFarquhar of the RSPB South East said: “Many people celebrate the arrival of swifts as a sign that summer is here.
“We also marvel at their ability to travel long distances very quickly during their long migration to and from Africa.
“But their journey often ends with a thud if their old nest site has been blocked up.
“Swifts nest almost exclusively in cavities in our buildings, and use the same sites year after year, so we can have a serious impact on them when we carry out repairs and renovations, or demolish old houses.
“But we can all help by keeping any existing nest sites intact, and providing new nest sites in modern buildings.
“It also helps to carry out any repair work or maintenance before the swifts arrive in mid-May, or after they leave in mid-August. That means their nest sites are ready and undisturbed when they need them.”
The RSPB is appealing to us all to look out for groups of screaming swifts at roof level, a good sign they are breeding nearby, or where they have seen swifts nesting – perhaps entering a hole in the building or under a roof. They would like any sightings reported to them via their website at www.rspb.org.uk/helpswifts.
Miss MacFarquhar added, “The public response to the call for records has been overwhelming, and the information is being used to encourage developers, local councils and building companies to retain or create nest sites.
“Now we need to keep the information up to date in order to see whether birds are returning, and whether the colony is stable. So if you did the survey last year, please help by taking part again this year.”
The RSPB has now made almost 25,000 records of swifts around the UK available on the internet, via the National Biodiversity Network.
Almost all sightings in last year’s survey were swifts found nesting on buildings and over three quarters of them were found nesting in houses.
Over half of the buildings were over 90 years old and exactly a quarter were built between 1919-1944.
Some local councils and building companies have already started incorporating swift measures in their planning, protecting existing nest sites and installing Swift boxes and ‘Swift bricks’ which provide new nesting areas for the birds.
The RSPB suggests a number of simple measures that could help the fast dwindling swift population:
Leave any existing nest sites undisturbed where possible. Swifts will use the same nest sites again and again.
If you need to carry out repair work on your roof or fascias and soffits, make new nest access holes to match the old ones at exactly the same spot.
If building a new house, plan some internal nest spaces at the design stage.
If you are unable to do any of these, the other alternative is to fit a custom-made swift box.