Tuesday, 17 May 2022

Help us protect spectacular swift

Help us protect spectacular swift

IT was about this time last year that the Greener Henley’s swift support group asked Henley Standard readers to keep an eye on the sky for the first swifts of the year.

We would like you to do the same this year and let us know where and when (date and time) you first spot swifts arriving and also if you see where they are nesting by emailing swiftshenley@gmail.com

2020 was our first year of supporting these amazing birds and we were delighted that we managed to put up 11 boxes, some double (semi-detached) and some single nest boxes.

We are very grateful for the Henley Town Council grant which will allow us to buy and install another six boxes and call systems.

Thanks to some keen swift-watchers, we have been able to map a dozen nesting sites but we hope to be able to identify a lot more this year.

Most people know that swifts are migratory birds which come to Britain to breed in the summer and then leave in August or September and fly back to equatorial and southern parts of Africa.

That’s a distance of 14,000 miles a year and, unlike other birds, swifts cannot take off from a standing start so they spend all their time on the wing, never landing. Amazingly, these wonderful birds are able to sleep while flying by keeping half their brain awake while the other half rests.

The sad thing about swifts is they are very much in decline, hence the need for groups like ours. In 1990 the population in the UK was 80,000 but it is thought their number has decreased by 50 per cent since then.

Originally swifts would have nested in caves or holes in cliffs or trees but since Roman times they have used high man-made structures, under tiles, in the eaves, in lofts, spires and towers, returning to the same nest each year.

Unfortunately, they have lost many of their nesting sites due to building demolition and refurbishment, blocking off their access to their previous nests.

For people having building work done, either new-build or refurbishment, it is easy to include an S brick in the construction which has a small hole for access into an enclosed space that’s just right for a swift’s nest.

The Royal Institute of British Architects recommends a ratio of one new nest place for every new housing unit. An increasing number of local authorities are saying the same. If this is implemented it would be a great help towards the swifts’ recovery.

We can do our bit by commenting to this effect on all planning applications in our area as well as lobbying our MP and local councillors to get swift nest bricks included in the local planning biodiversity requirements.

If you would like advice on placing an external swift box please contact us as we would be pleased to help.

By the way, the adult swifts take away all droppings from their nests to keep them parasite and disease-free — ask anyone who has swifts nesting if you are concerned about mess.

Another reason for the struggle for swift survival is the scarcity of their food source — insects.

One easy way of overcoming this is to follow the lead of other towns and cities in encouraging our councils not to use insecticides and weedkiller on any of their parks, gardens, sports grounds and verges.

Leaving our verges pesticide-free and to grow all summer, where safe to do so, will save money and give our swifts and other birds the insect food they badly need to survive.

Of course the same advice applies to gardeners. A chemical-free garden with healthy insect life is a small price to pay in return for the wonderful aerobatic displays and the high-pitched calls of these amazing birds.

From April we are planning monthly swift walks around the town to catch sight of these displays and spot where they are nesting. If you would like to join us, please email swiftshenley@gmail.com

Greener Henley has some exciting events coming up in the next few months. The first is an early evening walk looking at “Wildlife on our doorstep”, a family-friendly stroll around three of Henley’s green spaces at 6.30pm on Tuesday, April 19. To find out more, check our social media or email greenerhenley@gmail.com

Diana Barnett

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