Saturday 21 April 2012

Getting provision for Swifts into churches

If you wish to embark on installing Swift nest-boxes within a church building, then there are a number of rules, guidelines, procedures and officials that you need to be aware of. These guidelines apply to the Church of England.

Contributed by Jake Allsop and Bill Murrells

St Mary's Longstowe
There are several individuals and entities that you might have to deal with when trying to make provision for Swifts in a church building. The person responsible for the fabric of the building is the Churchwarden. His or her concern is that any work carried out to provide accommodation for Swifts, such as a louvre cabinet, does not conflict with any regulations provided by the Church authorities.

The rules governing the care of churches are the concern of the Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC). These rules are known as the “De Minimis Rules”, and are in two parts or schedules:

Schedule A relates to activities that can be carried out, usually by the Churchwarden, without consultation with the DAC.

Schedule B to activities that require DAC approval. This approval comes in the form of a “Faculty” or permission to carry out the work. A Faculty is issued by the Chancellor of the diocese on the recommendation of the DAC after they have accepted plans submitted by the Churchwarden, the Church Architect(s) and other professionals.

Fortunately, most of what we want to do in church towers and belfries are Schedule A activities, with the following caveats:

- avoid screwing or nailing directly into the fabric, or, if you do, go into the mortar joints, not into the stone or brickwork;

- where you are using the wooden frame of a louvre window to attach your nest boxes, remember that louvre windows are vulnerable to strong winds, and you should therefore ensure the strength of the frame.

Even if the proposed work comes within Schedule A, i.e. does not need a Faculty, you might still need to present your case to the Parish Church Committee and be ready to answer some questions, for example:

Q: Will this let birds or bats into the church
A: No, the space occupied by bird netting is occupied by the front of the box
Q: Do the birds make a mess
A: No, Swift droppings are minimal, with very little "whitewash"
Q: Do the nest boxes need clearing out each year
A: No, Swifts use a very small amount of nesting material
Q: Will bell ringing disturb the breeding Swifts
A: No, Swifts nest successfully within a few feet of bells which are rung

If the church has a bell-ringing group, you also need to be sure that the Bell Captain is happy. It is also a courtesy to talk first to the Vicar or Curate to get them on side. In all these encounters, Churchwardens are your best allies: they have the ear of the vicar and sit ex officio on the PCC.

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