Tuesday 28 August 2012

Wessex Place, Cambridge

This is a story of cooperation between local swift enthusiasts, the city council, owners, architects and builders resulting in the installation of 34 swift nest boxes in a renovated building.

Written by Dick Newell

Wessex Place nearing completion with 14 nest-boxes under 
the eaves on the left,  and another 20, in 2 lots of 10 under
the eaves on the right.
Wessex Place, a residential care home, on the one time site of the Rex Cinema, was closed in April 2009, since which time it has remained empty, apart from 2 pairs of swifts and a number of nesting starlings. Trinity College spotted the opportunity to renovate it and turn it into student flats.

Magrath Avenue resident, Helen Hodgson, knew that there were breeding Swifts and had already informed Guy Belcher, Cambridge City Council Nature Conservation Officer.

10 of the 20 nest-boxes built into the eaves. Note the small
speaker on the left with wire back into the roof space ready
for attraction call playing

Discussions took place between Guy,  the agents, Bidwells, the site manager Michael Denson and Trinity College who all agreed it would be a good idea to preserve the existing nest sites, as well as to create more opportunities for nesting swifts in this part of Cambridge.

The original intention was to preserve the 2 existing nesting places and to provide an additional 7 nest-boxes.

4 of the built in boxes. The swifts will nest on top of the
wall which is about 25mm below the entrances
On examining the situation, Michael Denson, together with Roger Seaman, Bidwells' Building Surveyor, could see that there were another 8 places identical to where the swifts were nesting, many of these had been occupied by starlings. Further, these nesting places were so large that each one could easily accommodate 2 pairs of swifts. So the 2 nesting places requested became 20 nesting places. All that was needed was a simple partition down the middle of the space between the joists, and a facing board with entrances designed for swifts which would exclude starlings. These were made by Bob Tonks.

4 out of 7 pairs of nest-boxes.
There is another speaker installed at the far end
1 pair of nest-boxes. The gap above the box, which avoids 
blocking ventilation into the roof space, has an insect and
bird-proof barrier. Doubtless some swifts will attempt to get
into it.

For the other 7 boxes, we built a prototype of a single box to fit on the outside of the south part of the building under the eaves between the protruding joists. It was requested that the nest-boxes be made longer, so that they would fit neatly between the joists to which they could be attached more easily than screwing them to the wall behind the boxes. The extra length meant that each box could be divided in 2, thus yielding 14 nest boxes. 

Although the two pairs of swifts have lost a breeding season, there is every chance that they will return next year to find luxury new accommodation, and, over time, be joined by many other pairs. 

The residents of Magrath Avenue can look forward to a vibrant swift colony on their doorstep.

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