• Swift numbers have almost halved in twenty years and new nesting boxes are needed to help numbers recover as they return to the UK to breed every summer
• Working closely with Barratt Homes and RSPB, British manufacturing company Manthorpe Building Products Ltd has designed a new swift brick which means new homes can offer a safe, habitable space for swifts that can be easily incorporated into the construction process
• The first new swift nest boxes have just been fitted at the Kingsbrook development in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, where Barratt Homes is creating over 300 acres of wildlife-rich open space and nature parks. In total Barratt will be installing up to 900 of the swift boxes in new homes at Kingsbrook
With swift numbers and nesting sites in decline Europe's biggest nature conservation charity, the UK's biggest house builder and Manthorpe Building Products Ltd have collaborated to create a new swift nest box in a brick format which can then easily be fitted in any new home.
Every year the enigmatic swift announces the arrival of the British summer as they complete a 6,000 mile migration to nest in the UK. However with falling population numbers there are now less than 90,000 breeding pairs arriving in the UK, down from almost 150,000 pairs just two decades ago. Part of this decline is being linked to a reduction in potential nesting sites.
Providing more nesting sites for swifts has been one of the aims of the partnership between RSPB and Barratt Homes, which launched in 2014 to look at how nature and wildlife could be incorporated into new communities. Working together, they commissioned UK manufacturing company Manthorpe to develop a new swift nest box design that could be easily installed during construction.
Michael Finn, group design and technical director at Barratt Developments, said:"The bricks are an industry first - they are fully drained, ventilated and are unobtrusive, by matching the colour of the bricks. They also help nurture chicks by giving them room to stand when they hatch. Crucially too, they are much, much cheaper than any other swift brick on the market, which will help their uptake. We actively want other developers to use the brick so we can all help build swift populations. It's a great example of how we are working together with the RSPB and the wider industry to support nature."
Darren Moorcroft, RSPB's head of species and habitats conservation, said:"The swift is an iconic species, its appearance announces the start of summer as they swoop and soar above our gardens. Sadly like many UK species the swift is in trouble, their numbers have dropped dramatically, putting them at risk of disappearing completely from the UK.
"We are working hard to reverse this decline. In previous centuries builders would often create spaces for swifts, but these techniques have fallen out of practice with modern homes. Our partnership with Barratt Homes has allowed us to share ideas and look at how we can bring this practice back in a way that works for builders, home owners and the swifts."
A specialist in designing and manufacturing of products for the building trade, Manthorpe was brought in to develop a new type of swift nest box. Starting with ideas proposed by Action for Swifts, the UK company designed something that would be easy to install and unobtrusive as well as providing a safe space for swifts to nest.
Gareth Wright, sales director at Manthorpe Building Products Ltd, said "Manthorpe Building Products has previously worked with Barratt Homes and has developed several products that help both Barratt Homes, and other house builders achieve their requirements. Therefore we were delighted to be approached by Barratt Homes and RSPB regarding the development of a potential new product which could be used by house builders to provide a home for Swifts. The product is already gaining a lot of interest and due to its ease of fitting and competitive price builders are able to incorporate this product into their new homes with no disruption to the build and no need to incorporate any design changes to existing house types."
The first phase of the development, Oakfield Village, will see Barratt build around 500 homes, ranging in size from 2-5 bedrooms, and which are on sale now. Of these, around 180 homes will feature the new swift boxes. Overall Barratt will be building 2,450 new homes at Kingsbrook, together with providing land and financial contributions for 3 new schools, building new community facilities and creating a host of new jobs.
The development is a standout showcase of Barratt Developments and the RSPB working together. In addition to the swift boxes, Kingsbrook will feature the creation of a new wildlife habitat, community orchard, formal and informal parks plus green corridors amongst the homes for wildlife.
Dick Newell, Action for Swifts, said: "If we are to compensate the loss of thousands of Swift nesting places every year due to insulation and roof repairs, we need to deploy thousands of nest boxes. A product like this is a great step forward in making this happen."
Due to the desperate decline of the swift population RSPB and Barratt Homes have agreed that the swift box will be available to other builders and developers.