Call for Derbyshire housebuilders to help one of the UK’s most endangered birds
and live on Freeview channel 276
The swift is one of the key signs of summer and the screeching sounds the high-speed birds make is unmistakable.
However, the number of swifts in the UK is declining rapidly, having fallen by 65 per cent in the past 25 years.
This is due to the decreasing number of places they can nest, typically in the eaves of buildings and often in older properties that are eventually renovated, blocking off nesting spots – and the use of insecticides, effectively killing off their food source.
Swifts eat, drink, sleep, mate and preen all while flying – only landing to nest and feed their chicks.
They cover around 500 miles a day and during their lifespan – which is at least 30 years – they will fly around two million miles, which is the equivalent of flying to the moon and back four times.
Swifts eat flying insects including flies, mosquitoes, greenflies, bees and airborne spiders.
They come to Europe each summer to breed and nest, arriving in early May, before making their way back to southern Africa at the end of July – a trip of roughly 14,000 miles.
The swift is the fastest level-flying bird in the world, at 69.3 mph, with its wings flapping eight times per second, flying as high as 3,000 metres.
One of its core aims, which is now increasingly seen in planning applications for new housing, is to see developers install so-called “swift bricks” in homes.
These ingenious bricks are effectively hollow, with a small entrance on one of the exterior brick faces, providing a home for the high-flying birds inside.
The bricks can be installed as part of the outer layer of bricks in new homes and are almost entirely obscured from view – save for a small hole, the entrance for the endangered birds.
This week, the project recommended that 16 swift bricks should be installed in a planned retirement apartment block scheme in Chesterfield Road, Matlock.
In May, the project recommended a number of swift boxes should be installed in homes planned off Park Road in Swadlincote.
In February, the project asked that 10 swift bricks be installed at a new expansion at HMP Sudbury.
It asked that swift boxes should be installed on a planned apartment block in Derby city centre in 2020.
Meanwhile, it has also worked with Derby Homes (the city council’s housing arm) and Rykneld Homes (North East Derbyshire District Council’s housing company) to both install swift bricks in new homes and not to carry out renovations on their properties over the summer months – when swifts may be nesting in the roof spaces. It also asks that small gaps can be left in older homes during renovations instead of being blocked off – retaining access for swifts while avoiding water ingress problems.
Nick Brown, who leads the Derbyshire Swift Conservation Project, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that if nothing id one “there probably won’t be any swifts in 30 years”.
He said: “In Derbyshire, getting planners and developers to install swift bricks is just starting to gain momentum thanks mainly to the work of my partner on the project, Andy Broadhurst, who has been trawling through planning applications and, where appropriate, commenting on the applications advocating that swift ‘bricks’ or ‘blocks’ depending on the type of wall construction, be installed as a regular part of the building of new housing.
“Once in place these nest spaces need no further maintenance at all. Swifts can only gather nest material while flying so they use only flimsy feathers and bits of straw they can find drifting in the air…so their nests are very small and materials do not accumulate inside the boxes.
“Swifts of course cannot get into the house itself and they leave very little mess either in the box or down the wall outside – often people don’t even realise they have swifts nesting.
“The staff who deal with planning applications at Derbyshire Wildlife Trust now routinely suggest to the planners that they should make installation of swift bricks a condition of granting approval of applications.”
The swift bricks can be bought for around £30 or £40 each and do not need maintenance or replacement and are installed high in the eaves of buildings, out of direct sunlight.
Mr Brown said: “We are trying to raise the profile of swifts and work with people like Derby Homes to not renovate in the middle of summer when swifts are nesting.
“The banging of scaffolding will disturb them and when new insulation is installed it fills the gap that had been used for swifts to gain nest in.”