When we first moved to Fordingbridge, 22 years ago, we used to get 20-30, sometimes more, swifts over our house every evening.
With their swooping flight formations and their characteristic screaming calls, they made us think of a Red Arrows display team.
Sadly, the old hotel just up the road from us was demolished and the swifts are gone too.
In fact, across the UK, numbers of swifts have declined by over 58% over the last 23 years.
Here in Fordingbridge over the last few years we now only see 6-8 swifts every year.
Swifts are fascinating birds. (see the PDF Presentation for more information)
They arrive in the UK in early May with the sole purpose of breeding and they leave in August to travel back to their wintering grounds in Africa, a journey of around 6,000 miles.
Swifts feed, drink, mate and sleep in the air, only landing to raise their young.
To sleep, they can shut down half their brain whilst flying, the other half monitoring their position to ensure that they wake up in the same place.
They are unable to perch on branches, wires etc or indeed to walk, as their feet are adapted to cling to vertical surfaces such as walls and trees.
They have an average lifespan of 9 years (up to 18 years) and are not sexually mature until they are 3 or 4 years of age.
They rely on man-made structures for nesting, using holes/gaps in buildings to access roof space.
They nest in colonies and are site-faithful, returning to the same nest every year.
Younger swifts survey an area for a suitable nest site which they then use when they are ready to breed.
If a building has been demolished or renovated, removing the nest site, it is unlikely that the returning swift will breed that year.
From laying their eggs to the chicks fledging takes a total of 9 weeks, so if the nesting site has gone they would not have time to find another one before it is time to return to Africa.
We represent Hampshire Swifts, a registered charity (Registered Charity Number 1177146) set up in 2016 to stop the decline of swifts in Hampshire.
Our objective is to promote for the benefit of the public the conservation of the Common Swift in Hampshire by
- raising general awareness of the declining status of this species,
- identifying and protecting existing nest sites and
- by encouraging the provision of additional nest sites across the county.
At Hampshire Swifts we have developed, and can provide for a small fee, both swift bricks and swift boxes.
The swift bricks are suitable for new properties and renovations/extensions to existing property.
Swift boxes are installed on the outside of existing properties.
Both the boxes and the bricks are best installed at around 5m from the ground, with a clear line of flight below and preferably not on a south facing wall.
In addition, special boxes can be built to cater for churches/listed buildings etc.
We can also provide a call attraction system which plays swift calls in the morning and evening on a timer.
Only one is needed for a number of swift boxes
There are two main areas where we work:
- Local planning;
This is one of the most important targets, from both a short and long-term perspective and from the huge potential it offers.
We, as an organisation and as individuals, can influence how the planning process works in two ways: providing reasoned input into the public consultations leading to adoption of Local Plans and commenting upon planning applications.
Ringwood and Fordingbridge fall into the New Forest District Council Planning Authority and has a “Local Plan”.
This is a large document which, in essence, summarises how this planning authority intends to comply with central government requirements for the provision of housing, usually over a 20 year period.
We aim to keep on top of the changes as they are opened up for consultation.
When reviewing Local Plans our sole aim is to ensure that Swift bricks are “provisioned” in all new houses.
Having such a requirement would ensure the installation of thousands of Swift bricks across the county; something which would be very difficult to achieve by any other means.
- Individuals and organisations.
Individual householders and organisations can help by installing Swift nest boxes on their houses, schools and office buildings.
This plays a vital role in promoting our activities to the wider public, raising awareness and slowly feeding into the consciousness and, eventually, the activities of local and even national politicians.
This is necessarily a slow process as we can only realistically install a finite number of boxes a year and changing hearts and minds takes time.
So how can you help?
Put up a swift box or two on your house and suggest friends and neighbours also do so.
Check out your local area. If someone is building an extension, or replacing roofs, soffits etc suggest that they consider installing swift boxes. Look at planning applications and comment on the installation of swift bricks.
Maybe in a few year’s time we will see the return of the 20-30 swift formations above our house, and yours as well?
Contact us at: