Swift advice for ecologists

John Day

Tuesday 11 June 2019

A swift brick nesting box  being installed near the roof of a new-build home

The UK Government has an ambitious target to build 300,000 homes. If not given due consideration this could have further detrimental impact in the declining wildlife populations of the UK.

This poses a huge challenge to balance the needs of people and business with those of the environment.

There is an onus on consultant ecologists when preparing reports on behalf of their clients to identify and maximise beneficial opportunities for wildlife in a developments. One bird standing to benefit from the building programme is the swift, providing the advice given is correct.

Recommendations often specify a handful of conventional boxes secured to trees and a few house sparrow terraces in the fabric of the building. Increasingly, with the growing concern for swifts, their nests are being recommended in ecology reports. When the chance recently arose to write an article for the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM), it was an ideal opportunity to bring its members up to speed with the latest knowledge and advice on the provision of nests for birds in new developments.

The article, written jointly by RSPB, Action for Swifts and Swift Conservation has just been published in CIEEM's ‘In Practice’ members journal and in summary the key points outlined for ecologists are:

• Incorporate nest boxes into development projects. Nest boxes suitable for multiple species such as swift nest boxes will help more species. Although birds of any kind are good for people’s health and well-being, budgets should be targeted at species that need help.

• Use data from the mapping tools (RSPB Swift Survey and Swift Mapper) , together with ecological survey work to assess likely impacts on swifts; implement effective mitigation by installing enough swift boxes in the correct location and position.

• Wherever possible, incorporate swift bricks in new or restored buildings to increase the overall availability of nest sites for swifts and other species. Birds such as house sparrow can use swift bricks, but swifts cannot use house sparrow nest bricks.

• Integral swift bricks are the preferred option on new housing developments (fitted in clusters of 2 to 4 on gables and near the roofline where swifts would naturally look for a potential nest site); on larger commercial buildings include one swift brick per 6 m2 of wall, mounted near the roofline, in clusters of 3 or more, with approximately 1 m between entrance holes.

• Try to ensure swift bricks have a minimum of 5 m clearance beneath and in front, and avoid locating them above doors and windows.

• ‘Tool-box’ training and on-site supervision is essential to ensure swift bricks are fitted correctly and in the right places.

• If in doubt, ask for advice: the Swifts Local Network (SLN) group, Swift Conservation, Action for Swifts or the RSPB are always available and happy to provide help. Check their respective websites and contact them for one-to-one advice on a project.

We optimistically look forward to seeing more of this in future ecology reports and recommendations for all developments and being able to see more delivery on the ground with appropriate site supervision.

Find out more about giving swifts a home

Last Updated: Tuesday 11 June 2019

Tagged with: Topic: Swift