Friday 18 March 2011

Cambridge City Council Swift Tower

Contributed by Guy Belcher, Nature Conservation Projects Officer for Cambridge City Council.

In the UK, housing developers make contributions to a fund, known as Section 106 funds, for the purposes of financing urban art.  Cambridge City Council came up with the brilliant idea of making an allocation to build a Swift Tower on Logan's Meadow Nature Reserve (Pye Fen) which would be not only an attractive piece of static urban art, but also a dynamic piece of living kinetic art as the Swifts display in the summer with their spectacular screaming flypasts. Andrew Merritt, an upcoming young London artist was commissioned to produce a range of designs, one of which, inspired by the African sun, was chosen by a committee of local councillors and Swift experts Jake Allsop and Dick Newell.

The African Sun comprises 221 boxes held together in a supporting steel framework. Each box can be removed individually for maintenance purposes. The boxes, made of 20mm thick treated pine, are 22cm x 22cm in cross section and with lengths ranging from 50 to 90 cm, so there is plenty of space inside each one for nesting Swifts.

However, although the 221 boxes provide a stunning visual effect, it would not be sensible to have such a large number of identical front entrances.
It is necessary that each entrance can be individually recognised by the birds, so there will be only 60 entrances in the north-facing front of the sun, arranged pseudo-randomly and also in locations chosen with minimal exposure to the sun on the south-facing back. In order to further help the Swifts recognise individual boxes, 3 shapes of canopy will be placed in a random arrangement above each entrance. The variation in colour across the face of the sun will also help recognition - Swifts have extremely good colour perception. There are a further 33 entrances on the lower back and sides, in more shaded locations, with 10 boxes allocated to bats in the upper part of the back, as bats prefer warmer roosting places.

In order to attract the birds, a 'bird scarer' device, programmed with Swift calls, will be used. It may well take more than one season to attract the birds, but once the first occupants are established, the colony should grow steadily through the years, providing a sensational attraction for Cambridge residents and visitors.

Local school children are involved in the project with a range of activities, including feathering nest concaves for the tower (see project at Milton Road Primary School).

See this video about the tower by Cambridge Film Consortium and the the children.


  1. Congratulations Dick.

    Also saw this link to a news report on Cambridge Councils site:

  2. Good information on this post. Also, it is really nice to listen all your words. Thanks for sharing this.
    Treated Pine Posts

  3. Can you not persuade the London Borough of Merton to do something similar for swifts?

    1. Well they do have a section on their website:
      You could get in touch with them. We would be happy to advise if they contacted us.