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Belfast - Swift City

Last modified: 11 June 2013

Swifts flying at low level over rooftops

Image: Nigel Blake

The RSPB has announced a project to turn Belfast into the first ever “Swift City” at a launch event at Belfast City Hall.


Every year, the RSPB encourages people to report sightings of swifts all over the UK in their Swift Inventory, but the Swift City project will go one step further.


The new Lord Mayor of Belfast, Mairtin O’Mulleoir, welcomed guests to the event and spoke about the importance of making space for nature in our towns and cities. Speakers included Peter Cush from the Northern Ireland Swift Group and Breinnan Mullan from Translink, who spoke about the company’s installation of a swift tower at Adelaide Station in south Belfast.


Also in attendance were pupils from Botanic Primary School. The school has been working with the RSPB to raise awareness in their local area of the swift and its declines.


RSPB Director James Robinson said “The project has already seen a small army of volunteers cover Belfast, scouting for swift nest sites across the entire city. Once we know where the birds are nesting, we can begin our work to protect them. The work these volunteers have done is invaluable and we’ll be really interested to see the full results of their surveys and find out just how many swifts are nesting in Belfast, as we do not know at present. Once we have an idea of how many there are, we can monitor their numbers to see if they are recovering.


 “It is devastating news that swifts are declining at such a rapid rate. Although the exact reasons for their decline are not yet clear, the loss of nesting sites through building improvement or demolition is thought to play a part.


“The swift is an iconic species, but it’s in trouble like many other species here in the UK. The recent State of Nature report found that 60% of our native species are in decline. That is a shocking figure, and we know that we have to work very hard to reverse those declines.”


At the launch event, attendees were treated to a performance from African drum troupe Releasing Rhythms, celebrating the link we share with Africa as swifts migrate from that continent to ours every year.


Peter Cush from the Northern Ireland Swift Group said “The swift really is a fascinating creature. Every year, they set off from Africa to Europe to breed in their thousands. In their epic journey, which can total thousands of miles, they will never set foot on the ground. Their Latin name, Apus apus even translates as “without feet”. They eat, sleep, drink and even mate on the wing.”


The next stage of the project will involve working closely with the construction industry – builders, architects, planners and local authorities- to advise them on how to help these birds. With simple modifications and a little thought, we can make space for nature in the most urban of places.


There are many ways to help make buildings more inviting and secure for swifts, some more elaborate than others. Simply installing a nest box can give a breeding pair a place to keep their chicks safe until they fledge. Another option is installing specially created “swift bricks” with holes for the birds to nest in.  Swifts do not require a lot of space – a small crack in a building or a roof is often all they need, so they can live quite happily in an urban environment.

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