Swift Species Champion

Kerry McCarthy

Thursday 28 February 2019

Kerry McCarthy
MP Species Champion for Swifts
Species champion parliamentarian of the year 2018

Each summer, like many bird lovers, I eagerly look forward to the arrival of swifts back in the UK, following their long migration from Africa. But I’m also concerned about their alarming decline and disappearance from many areas.

While there’s still a great deal of mystery around the lives of these birds, it’s likely that a major factor in their decline is the loss of places to nest. We know that modern buildings and renovations simply lack the nooks and crannies they need.

We also know that by replacing lost nesting sites using swift boxes on the outsides of buildings, and ‘swift bricks’ which sit neatly inside the walls, we can give them a helping hand. Even if swifts don’t move in straight away, other wildlife benefits.

Last year I asked the Secretary of State for Housing whether he would bring forward legislation for swift bricks to be added to new build properties and restoration / renewal building projects. Although the response was supportive in tone, it was disappointing to hear that no such legislation would be considered. The RSPB tells me that Germany, Gibraltar and Poland all require that swift nest sites are included in developments and extensions. I don’t see why the UK cannot do the same? For relatively little cost, this simple requirement could make an incredible difference for swifts.

Around the same time I also asked the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about increased protection for swifts. I suggested that the birds should be added to the Schedule 1 list of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and the UK Biodiversity Action Plan list of priority species. There are currently no plans for these additions, although I was assured that the swift’s place on the UK amber list would be taken into account when conservation action is planned.

While we are waiting for the Government to act, it is always reassuring to hear about the work of local swift groups, and initiatives driven by housing developers themselves, including in Bristol, the city I represent. In September I visited the Barratt Homes development at St Matthias in Fishponds in my constituency, where the housebuilder is making efforts to ensure swifts – as well as people – have somewhere to live. I enjoyed helping to install one of the integral swift bricks on one of the new properties. Hopefully within a few years it’ll be filled with swift chicks flexing their wings, preparing for their first flight. Last summer I was privileged to be invited to the opening of the refurbished Brunel House which had been converted into student accommodation. Here, working with the contractors, RSPB had influenced installation of 20 new swift boxes onto the building. It’s great to hear that the Duchy of Cornwall is installing swift homes into their new properties too.

Some far sighted local authorities, for example in Bolton and Exeter, have started to tackle this issue with their strategic planning guidance. We need to take the postcode lottery element of this away so that all our local authorities do the same.

Currently I am hoping to persuade the team restoring the Palace of Westminster that their work presents an excellent opportunity for adding swift bricks or boxes. What a fantastic example we could set as Parliamentarians!

The RSPB are calling for us all to try and create new homes for swifts before they get here in spring, and I fully support that. Let’s give these wonderful birds the welcome they deserve.

Find out more at www.rspb.org.uk/homes-for-swifts

Image By Barratt Homes
Pictured left to right – Tony Whitehead from the RSPB with Barratt Homes site manager Bob Burges, technical director David Bond and Kerry McCarthy MP.

Last Updated: Thursday 28 February 2019

Tagged with: Topic: Swift