The Big Birdbox survey

Dr Thaís Martins

Wednesday 27 March 2019

Edward Meyer’s talk at the Swift Conservation meeting in Cambridge in April 2014 was remarkable for the message it conveyed: ‘if we are going to have more house developments, please see this as an opportunity to shape the developments to be the places where the wellbeing of both people and wildlife are enhanced’.

People from several different organisations have been shaping this future for some years now. One project in particular has become a model: Stephen Fitt’s work alongside Exeter City Council’s planners and developers to include permanent internal boxes for birds and bats in the walls of new houses at a ratio of 1:1. Stephen has been a volunteer for the RSPB for many years and his work in the Exeter area has seen up to 1,500 new boxes fitted to date with many more projected for the future. It is wonderful to see that many different developers have been persuaded and taken this suggestion to task. Let’s hope this practice eventually becomes standard not only in Exeter but also throughout the UK.

Since 2015 Stephen has also been working with the Duchy of Cornwall and their building team fitting swift boxes in their existing and planned developments from Cornwall to Kent, which could see between 5,000 and 8,000 boxes installed over the next 30 years. Now the Duchy want to pioneer a citizen science survey with the aim to come up with a code of good practice for the industry. Five years after that talk in Cambridge, and a life-long interest in swifts, I am very happy to be involved in the ‘Big Duchy Bird Box Survey’. Starting this breeding season we are asking the residents of three developments in Cornwall to observe and report on the boxes, both in their own house and in close neighbouring houses.

We expect the first bird box residents will be house sparrows, blue tits and maybe starlings hopefully quickly followed by swifts. In future years we hope the residents’ data will be used to inform new developments on which type of box provides better accommodation for birds as well as which location and aspect is more suitable for the different species.

The next ten years will be very important for this urban utopia and we should as consumers be part of this process by choosing developments which give both people and wildlife a good place to live. That would be the best guarantee for the continuing chatter of birds in our gardens and to continue on hearing that sound high up in the sky which is as sweet as summer itself: a screaming party of swifts…

Find out more about giving swifts a home

Image: Swifts - Ben Andrew (

Last Updated: Wednesday 27 March 2019

Tagged with: Topic: Swift