Thursday, 18 April 2019

Abbots Ripton Hall

Abbots Ripton Hall is a stately home with parapet walls offering ideal opportunities for Swift nest boxes, and it is the home of Lord de Ramsey who is very much a wildlife enthusiast.

For this project we supplied half brick entrance pieces and John Stimpson provided modified Model 30's. Instead of the entrance in the front, a larger rectangular hole was made in the back. The work was undertaken by Gavin Smith and his team.

The parapet is a solid wall, with plenty of headers providing opportunities for Swift boxes. Removing the headers was easy enough, but on the inside, some of the walls were rendered on top of chicken mesh which required cutting away.

8 boxes have been installed in 3 different parts of the parapet. If/when these are successful, there is scope for many more.

From this aspect, all of the boxes are in view, but barely visible
3 out of 8 entrances
Model 30's inside the parapet
Lid off showing access tunnel through the wall.


Sunday, 14 April 2019

The Cambridge System with circular entrance pieces

This is a nice implementation of the Cambridge System with circular entrance pieces

Thanks for the pictures are due to Graham Fry, who lives near St Neots.

With rendered walls, one cannot see where the bricks are in order to go about removing a brick to make an entrance.  While one could tackle the problem from the inside, one risks making a mess of the render. So making a hole with a  4 inch core drill from the outside is another way of doing it. Then circular entrance pieces neatly fill the hole.

This is a solid wall 9 inches thick, but a 4 inch core drill is an efficient way to make a hole all of the way through.

Making holes with a 4inch core drill
Entrance pieces inserted
Nest boxes installed.
A circular entrance piece
#cambridge

Saturday, 13 April 2019

First installation of retrofitted S boxes

These are the first pictures of retrofitted S boxes. The S box is particularly suited for retrofit as it occupies just one course of bricks, and, normally is confined to the outer leaf and the cavity, though this first installation was slightly different.

John Hunt in Northants already has Swifts breeding in a Zeist and a Model 30 on his gable, so he decided to give the S box a go. The boxes are at a level where there is an unheated room, and John wanted access to the boxes from the inside.  As the S box is made on a laser cutter, it can be tailored to fit the space available, so it was easy to adjust the depth of the box to bridge the cavity and inner leaf. In this case, the cavity was 60mm, so extra floor area needed to be found somehow. The floor area is 475 sq cm and headroom is 88mm, quite a bit larger than our successful experimental swift bricks

Although essentially straightforward, it was not as easy as it should have been because of a measurement miscommunication, a sliver of brick required trimming with an angle grinder.

Normally the back of the S box is closed, but we cut a rectangular hole to allow for a removable door. It also allows for a perspex back and a camera in due course.

S box with brick slip cast out of sand and cement.
Note clear labelling of Top (and Bottom)

S box rear view showing the nest form.The open back was a tailored feature for this implementation.

2 S boxes installed. A reasonable colour match was achieved with some red dye.

Distant view of gable

Internal view of installed box with Velcro surround
Backs installed

#sbox

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Dinton Church

This is a job particularly well done, so should be an inspiration to others. Back in August 2018 Sue Hetherington got in touch about swift boxes in the belfry of Saints Peter & Paul in Dinton, Bucks. The belfry has large louvres, more widely spaced than normal, meaning that 2 levels of entrances could fit between each pair of louvres. (We did something like this in St Mary's, St Neots).

After batting photos and measurements back and forth we, AfS, suggested a configuration (see below) which has been very competently adapted and implemented by carpenter Nick Deschamps, resulting in 16 new nest boxes in the belfry. Rosemary Jackson takes up the story:


The church of SS Peter & Paul, Dinton
"The idea for installing swift nest boxes in our village church was triggered by three incidents in 2017.

We went to the Rutland Bird fair in August 2017 and there we saw the Action for Swifts display. An enthusiastic carpenter had brought the front of a bank of nest boxes which he told us fitted in his church tower and had attracted a new colony of swifts to his village.

Also, in 2017 there was a study group amongst the churches in my area about the idea of the Eco Church and how we could make our churches more environmentally friendly.

The next summer I found out that the only nest site for swifts in my area had been blocked up and we were then very concerned that we would not get swifts back in the village. Happily, one pair nested somewhere because we had five swifts screaming around the village in August and giving us such great pleasure as they always do.

I decided that I would act to promote swifts somehow. I wrote a book about a family of swifts for young children and an artist friend illustrated it. By amazing serendipity her husband had just retired and was looking for a project to pursue and the challenge of making swift nest boxes and installing them in the church tower fired his imagination.

16 boxes installed
We realized very quickly that this was no straightforward project. After examining the Action for Swifts website and contacting a Bucks Bird Club friend we were put in touch with Dick Newell who developed a plan of 16 nest boxes to fit our very ancient church louvres inside the bell chamber. Nick set to work on the carpentry and all the winter of 2018/2019 worked on 4 banks of 4 nest boxes. Eventually when the weather got warmer, we were able to try a model in the bell chamber, and eventually mid-March fitted the real things, even putting chicken feathers in the nesting cups to get the swifts started on the soft furnishings.

At the beginning of May we plan to start playing the screaming swift family calls to alert swifts coming back from Africa that there are nest boxes here inviting occupancy.

We also plan that, should we be fortunate enough to attract out own family of swifts we will fit a camera into the nesting box and arrange a cctv so that we can have a birdwatching day with the local school children, setting up telescopes and a laptop with live pictures and information on this amazing miracle bird.

British wildlife is truly wonderful!

Rosemary Jackson,

Church warden "


The original concept model:






Conservation Evidence

Conservation Evidence is a free, authoritative information resource designed to support decisions about how to maintain and restore global biodiversity. It summarises the results of studies that have tested a wide range of conservation interventions and also categorises each intervention according to whether this evidence demonstrates that they are likely to be beneficial, of unknown benefit or unlikely to be beneficial. There is also a Conservation Evidence journal, that publishes the results of studies that have tested the effectiveness of conservation interventions, and welcomes short articles from conservation practitioners.


14 nest boxes in St Mary’s church, Ely, UK
showing 4 boxes with nest forms and 1 box
without a nest form occupied by common
swifts. (click to enlarge)

On searching the Conservation Evidence website for the keyword "swift", there is just one paper, of unknown effectiveness, titled Provide artificial nesting sites for swifts - about Vaux's Swift.

All of the research in this country and in Europe does not seem to have resulted in anything documenting a conservation benefit for the Common Swift on the CE website.

So, encouraged by Prof Bill Sutherland, Miriam Rothschild Professor of Conservation Biology in the department of zoology at Cambridge University, I wrote up the results of our experiments on placing nest forms in Swift nest boxes:








A test of the use of artificial nest forms in common swift Apus apus nest boxes in southern England

Dick Newell
Action for Swifts, Old Beach Farm, 91 Green End, Landbeach, Cambridge, CB25 9FD, UK

SUMMARY
Common swifts Apus apus have shown significant declines in the UK over recent decades, and one possible cause is loss of nesting sites. Nest boxes have previously shown to be effective for this species. Here we test whether the addition of an artificial ‘nest form’ affected the occupancy of nest boxes. Nest boxes that contained a form were 4.6 times more likely to be occupied by common swifts than nest boxes without a form. The design of the form did not appear to affect occupancy rate. Further study is needed to discover whether nest forms increase overall occupancy rates.


You can access the paper here

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Parapet wall Swift boxes in Ely

Elaine Griffin-Singh, a local Ely councillor announced in the local newspaper that she will focus on Hedgehogs and Swifts, so we got in touch. One of the outcomes is a project at the youth and community centre called Centre E

We already have very successful projects in Ely in St Mary's Church (55 pairs in 2018) and the Maltings (11 pairs in 2018), so we were pleased to be offered a new opportunity.

The flat topped roof of Centre E is surrounded by a low parapet wall. It is a solid wall 9 inches thick constructed of headers and stretchers. We thus thought it would be a simple matter of removing some headers, inserting a half brick entrance piece with a nest box screwed to the inside of the wall. We have done this many times in Victorian walls, 


However, Centre E was built more recently, in the early 20th century, with very hard bricks and even harder mortar. So what we planned as a 1 day project turned out to be 3 days - and we have a few things left to do.

Normally we can drill out lime mortar and take the headers out whole. Not this time, we used diamond core drills (we went through 2 of them) to drill out the bricks. It was jolly hard work.

That wasn't the only complication, the inside wall was far from even, so fitting the boxes neatly proved quite a challenge, but we got it done and we are pleased with the result.

Moral of the story - test the hardness of bricks and mortar before embarking on a project like this.

The boxes are constructed larger than normal in anticipation of fitting cameras so that visitors to the Youth centre can follow the nesting of the swifts, and become environmentally aware and enthused by what they see on a monitor downstairs in the youth hub.



Centre E - 8 nest box entrances barely visible
4 entrances in the west


4 entrances in the north
4 headers removed in the west wall
2 double swift boxes in the west wall
2 double boxes in the north wall

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Guidance for including bird boxes in residential development

We have recently started walking around new housing developments in South Cambridgeshire to see what is being done in the way of Biodiversity Net Gain. In particular we have been looking to see what Swift bricks have been installed.

by John Willis & Dick Newell


Our starting point was the planning portal on the council website from which we derived maps showing exactly where every Swift brick and sparrow terrace was to be installed. Councils should carry out this kind of audit themselves, but they have no resources to do it. Thus the volunteer sector (SLN members) could have an important role to play.

As we do not wish to embarrass anyone, we will not say where we went, but we have the following observations:

1. The number of Swift bricks conditioned by the planners is low, between 10% and 20% of dwellings. There was a high percentage of empty gables. It is becoming generally accepted that It should be nearer 1 per dwelling on average, see page 101 of RIBA Publishing's Building for Biodiversity 2nd edition 2016.
2. About equal numbers of sparrow terraces and swift bricks are conditioned. Integral sparrow terraces contain three nest chambers but are seldom if ever used by more than one pair, swift boxes a metre+ apart will be used by swifts and sparrows.. There would be better outcomes for both sparrows and Swifts if there were more Swift boxes and fewer sparrow terraces.
3. Many of the conditioned Swift bricks were not installed, and, at the time of writing, we do not know what will be done to correct these omissions. None of the specified nest boxes are suitable for retrofitting.
4. Many Swift bricks were not placed high up in the gable, but in sub-optimal places at a lower elevation. Some swift bricks were even specified in garage gables, barely 4 metres high.
5. There was never more than 1 swift brick in any one gable. As Swifts and House Sparrows like to nest in groups, why not 2 or more in suitable gables?
6. Some swift bricks were placed in facing gables about 8 metres apart - this is not the clear flyway that is the ideal.
7. Some of the European sourced swift bricks are not compatible with UK brick sizes, requiring the bricklayer to cut up to 8 bricks to get them in.


Our conclusion from these observations is that there is work to be done to get both planners and ecologists up to speed in specifying bird boxes in residential development.
We have drafted some guidelines that you can read here



Figure 1: Recommended positions of internal nest boxes for Swifts and House Sparrows.
Other possibilities include holes in soffits and fascias.








Saturday, 9 February 2019

Caring for God's Acre


We all know that in many towns and villages, churches are an important refuge for wildlife, including Swifts. Swifts often breed under the eaves of churches or in other parts of the fabric and we also know that many of the 30,000 churches in the country provide a great opportunity for nest boxes in the belfry. Now the charity Caring for God's Acre would like people to send in records of what you see in a churchyard.

The charity Caring for God's Acre is working with several partners including the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) and both the Church of England and Church in Wales to improve biological recording within burial grounds of all types, sizes and denominations. Burial grounds can be absolute gems for ancient trees, historic walls, monuments, lichens, fungi and flowery grassland, all of which in turn support invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and of course BIRDS! As well as feeding into the NBN Atlas and local recording systems, we will use these records to put information onto the Church Heritage Record; the system used when planning building or repair work within churches and churchyards. In this way, we hope to influence thinking and avoid uninformed decisions.

We would love to receive any records of birds in burial grounds, in particular Spotted Flycatcher and nesting Swifts. Records can be sent directly to us as a list, submitted via iRecord or the local record centre or put onto our iRecord system which is found via the Caring for God's Acre website.

Provided it is clear that the record is within a churchyard or cemetery it will reach us.

Friday, 30 November 2018

Grade I Swift bricks


Thank you to Peta Sams for sending this story

Built in 1797, the first iron framed building in the world, Shrewsbury Flax Mill was a very successful and profitable producer of thread until the middle of the 19th century. In 1897 the building was adapted for use as a maltings for the brewing industry and it was at this time that vents were put into the walls to help provide adequate air flow for the malting of barley. The maltings closed in 1934 but was used again for malt production between 1948 and 1987 when the site finally closed. It was during this latter phase of its use as a maltings that the inside of the vents was sealed off - between 1950 and 1980.

The innovative construction of this building paved the way for the skyscrapers of our modern world and it is recognised as one of the most important buildings from the industrial revolution. Hence its classification as a Grade 1 listed building and the current involvement by Historic England to bring the building back into a good state and see it used again.

What’s this got to do with Swifts?

Well, the closing of the vents just on the inside, together with the fortuitous wide spacing of the wooden slats on the external face of the vents, meant that around 25 Swift bricks had been created sometime between 1950 to 1980. We have no idea when the birds spotted this potential but in 1999, when Brian Martin was asked to survey the site, at least 11 pairs were observed using the vents on the west side of the Main Mill and on both the north and south sides of the adjoining Cross Mill.

Main Mill scaffolded from 2007-2018
In 2007, to prevent the collapse of the building, extensive scaffolding was erected on the Main Mill building which effectively prevented access to nest sites.

However, when Shrewsbury Swift Group surveyed the site in 2015, ten vents on the Cross Mill were seen to be in use by Swifts – which was very good news. The group have surveyed the site annually and it is good to see that the number of Swifts there is pretty stable, with up to 14 vents on the Cross Mill being used by Swifts in the last two years.

In spring 2017 more than 20 Swift boxes were put up on an adjacent building on the site in mitigation and although the birds have investigated them, they were not observed being used for nesting.

Section of the Main Mill after scaffolding
removed in 2018. There are 15 potential nest
sites here in the renovated vents.
Much effort to secure the significant funding needed for this project finally allowed work to restore the Main Mill to start in 2017 and after 11 years(!) the scaffolding has, in just the last month, been taken down.

Shrewsbury Swift Group, together with Brian Martin who has retained a very keen interest in the site since the initial survey all those years ago, visited the site very recently and were pleased to see, in addition to the 13 active nest sites seen in 2018 on the Cross Mill, there are a further 15 vents available for Swifts on the Main Mill. These have been lightly restored by Historic England and the original wood from around 1897 is in good condition and has been retained. The significant gap over the top slat has been kept.

2019 is going to be an exciting year to see if the Swifts find and use the newly available nest sites on the Main Mill that they have not been able to access for so long. We look forward to the colony growing and hope to be able to tell visitors to the Flaxmill Maltings about Swifts and how they have hung on here during all the years of uncertainty and more recently during the building works. Could these be the first ever internal Swift bricks? – and Grade 1 listed at that!

North face of Cross Mill in 2015 showing the vents
used by Swifts.

We would like to thank Historic England and especially Gabriella Smith and Nick Hill who, despite having a very serious conservation project on their hands to rescue the whole site, have been willing to let Swift group members on site and  have shown much interest themselves in the use of these Grade 1 Swift boxes by the Swifts each summer.












Postscript
We have made an informed guess at what these nest spaces might be like on the inside in this model. The swifts enter and leave through the gap at the top.