David Feige, Principal Ecologist and AONB Officer at Northumberland County Council explains how planning can help developments provide homes and habitats for swifts.
Building the houses that we need while conserving and enhancing the natural environment is a huge challenge in a crowded country such as the UK, and achieving good outcomes for people and the environment can be extremely difficult. Fortunately however, there are occasions when new developments really can deliver for wildlife. One such example is the provision of ‘swift bricks’. These are next boxes for swifts designed to fit in the wall cavity of a house, fronted by a modified brick that provides the right size and shape of nest entrance. Because these are designed to fit with standard cavities and standard bricks they are exceptionally easy for developers to incorporate into the houses that they are building. Swifts are great house guests; dramatic aerobats with a call that is evocative of long summer evenings, but so clean and tidy at their nest sites that you hardly know they are there.
Northumberland County Council now routinely requires developers to incorporate in-built features such as swift bricks in new developments, by including requirements to provide them in the planning conditions that developers must adhere to when building the schemes that they gain planning permission for. This approach is supported by the National Planning Policy Framework, the Government’s rulebook for planning. This identifies that one of the objectives of the planning system is to contribute to protecting and enhancing the natural environment, and it requires Local Planning Authorities to seek opportunities to incorporate features of benefit to biodiversity in new developments.
However swifts need more than nest sites, and it is important to consider all of their requirements such as a good supply of flying insects to feed on. New developments will include landscaping, green space and features such as the swales and basins used to manage drainage on the site. The design and management of these and the species chosen to plant and sow in them will influence their value for invertebrates, including the species that form the food supply for insectivorous birds such as swifts. Consequently The Council also pays close attention to these aspects of new development.
Northumberland County Council is currently preparing a new Local Plan, and this will include a Design Guide, setting out the Council’s expectations concerning the design of future development in the county. This will include advice about how to maximise the ecological value of new development, including through building-in features such as swift bricks, and through appropriate landscape design and species choice.
Photo caption: Swift bricks at Ascent Homes’ Wayside Point development at Ellington, Northumberland. Photo credit: (c) Iain Robson.
Last Updated: Friday 22 February 2019