Swift in flight

Oxford Swift City

The Oxford Swift City project aims to improve the outlook for swifts in Oxford, working to raise local awareness of the many ways that we can help these vulnerable birds.

About Oxford Swift City

Swifts are quintessentially urban birds and a symbol of the British summer. Unfortunately, they're in serious decline: the UK breeding population decreased by 51% from 1995 to 2015.

This is largely due to a loss of suitable nest spaces as old buildings are renovated or demolished. New buildings often lack the crevices these charismatic birds use as homes.

The Oxford University Museum of Natural History has been home to many generations of swifts over the years, and the study of this particular population – dating from 1946 – is one of the longest ever continuous studies of its kind. For this reason, Oxford is the perfect place to host England’s first Swift City. David Lack's book Swifts in a Tower, still the key text on swifts, was based on this population.

Initially funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, we’re working alongside local communities and partner organisations to improve the prospects for our local swifts, whilst also giving people opportunities to connect to nature. 

Swift Tower

Objectives

  • Increase public awareness and support for swifts by inspiring people to take practical action to help this iconic bird.
  • Improve data on swift populations, nest locations and foraging areas in Oxford.
  • Increase availability of nest sites for swifts in new and existing buildings.
Swift boxes at Medley Sailing Club

Progress

We are working with a community Swift Group, who are acting to help swifts in Oxford. The group was established to continue the work started by the National Lottery Heritage Fund project. See contact details, below.

The original project, running from May 2017 to March 2019, engaged over 7000 people through walks, talks, events, competitions and taught school sessions at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

The project also achieved the following:

  • A new Oxford-specific advice pack (see Downloads, below) full of information on how to help swifts is now available
  • 70 swift surveyors were trained and have vastly increased the information on swift hotspots and nesting sites
  • An eye-catching and unique swift tower has been installed in the University Parks, inspiring future interest in, and action, for swifts
  • 350 new nesting sites were secured through the community nestbox scheme
  • Positive impacts through planning will be secured in the future through the publication of a new Biodiversity Technical Advice Note providing advice to developers
  • An updated version of David Lack's book Swifts in a Tower is now available to purchase from our shop. The book provides an insight into the lives of swifts and highlights the cultural importance of Oxford in our understanding of the species.
George Candelin at OUMNH

Planned work

The Oxford Swift City group is continuing the project, led by two RSPB volunteer coordinators.

How can you help

  • Give swifts a home by putting up a swift nest box
  • Tell us where they are by submitting your sightings to rspb.org.uk/swiftsurvey
  • Sow wildflowers to provide nectar for insects, providing much-needed food for the swifts
  • Join the local group distribution list, or sign up to complete a survey in Oxford by contacting oxfordswiftcity@rspb.org.uk.
Swift flock over a house

Partners

  • Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust
  • Environmental Resource Management
  • Dr A Lack
  • Dr J Hughes
  • Mr C Mason
  • Oxford City Council
  • Oxford University Museum of Natural History
  • Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre
  • The University of Oxford
Swift Tower consultation event

Funding

The project was supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund in 2016-2019.

Funding for the Oxford Swift Tower was provided by the National Lottery Heritage Fund as part of the Oxford Swift City Project and the Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment (TOE) with funding from Grundon Waste Management Ltd.

Oxford Swift City partner logos

Contact

Coast on a stormy day

Oxford Swift City

oxfordswiftcity@rspb.org.uk

Further reading

Swift in flight

Downloads to help swifts