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RSPB survey reveals we may be affecting our oldest neighbours

Last modified: 30 November 2007

Swift in flight

A UK-wide survey of swifts this summer has revealed interesting variations between birds nesting in urban and rural locations.

Virtually all of the UK’s swift populations nests in buildings, but the 3070 homeowners responding to the 2007 RSPB Swift Survey revealed that rural homes were around twice as likely to have nesting swifts as urban ones.

During the survey, most swifts were recorded nesting in roof spaces, with almost two-thirds of swifts entering under eaves, and another quarter through roof tiles. Across the UK, one-in-eight swifts nested in holes in brickwork.

Unfortunately, these sites are all too-easily removed during property renovation, potentially denying swifts opportunities to nest. The RSPB is concerned that the UK’s swift population may suffer if suitable sites aren’t available.

Previous RSPB swift surveys have shown that swifts have a strong tie to older properties, especially those built before 1919. It is widely believed that these properties offer more nesting sites than modern homes.

In decline

There is some evidence that swift populations are declining across the UK, and the latest State of the UK’s Birds report suggests that the UK’s swift population has declined by 26 per cent since 1994.

'Swifts have nested on our buildings for centuries and they depend on us for their future.'

Dr Darren Moorcroft, the RSPB’s head of conservation management, said: 'Swifts have nested on our buildings for centuries and they depend on us for their future. We fear that the UK swift population may be declining, possibly through a reduction of nesting sites caused by renovation.

'Swifts use traditional nest sites, especially in old buildings. If these are destroyed, it is hard to entice the birds back.'

Help swifts in your area

Concern for Swifts – one of several groups dedicated to the conservation of swifts – has produced a five-point plan to safeguard existing nest sites or create new ones, these are:

  • Where possible, leave existing nest holes alone, working around them when carrying out repairs and renovations.
  • If not, fit an internal nest box behind the replacement material. Position the box and make a hole in the new material at the same location as the original nest site.
  • Create new sites by making appropriately sized holes in existing soffits or fascias.
  • Fit internal nestboxes in new builds or extensions.
  • Use external, wall-mounted nestboxes as a last resort.

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In more depth

    Bird guide

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