Saturday 17 November 2012

Cherwell Swifts Conservation Project - 2012 Report

We are pleased to host this report from Oxfordshire, which demonstrates just how much can be achieved locally.

Contributed by Chris Mason

Main Aims of the Project: 
1. To identify and protect Swifts nest sites in Cherwell District (though the network is expanding to neighbouring Districts too).
2. To encourage the creation of new Swifts’ nesting places in suitable sites.
3. To encourage local interest in Swifts, including their life history and the risks they face particularly from building work.

At the Kirtlington home of Chris and Ruth Powles who created nest places for Swifts
during recent renovation work. Two young Swifts fledged successfully in 2012
Progress so far: 
Since 2008 we have identified approximately 160 buildings in the District where Swifts nest and more than 20 in towns and villages just outside the District. Some of these buildings contain many nesting pairs. We have more than 30 people actively involved in looking out for their local Swifts and submitting information, and a further 30 or so who support the project in various ways.

Summary of 2012 Events: 
1. Walks.
Evening walks were arranged in Lower Heyford, Upper Heyford, Steeple Aston, Islip, Woodstock, Hook Norton and Bicester. The aims were to interest more people in Swifts and to find new nest sites. The Steeple Aston walk was rained off shortly after we set out. On the other evenings the weather varied between reasonable and, once or twice, perfect. The walks were well-attended with usually 10-15 people turning up. Gill Phillips and Adrian Bletchly also helped with a preliminary survey in Souldern (2 buildings with nests so far), and Naomi Bowen and Kath Randall organised a search in Wigginton (Swifts but no nests).

2. Displays.
These were held at fairs in Kidlington and Bicester, the Farmer’s Market in Deddington and Woodstock Library.

3. Talks:
Talks were given at the British Trust for Ornithology Regional Conference and to the Banbury Ornithological Society (BOS).

4. Churches:
Nest boxes were installed at St Edburg’s Church in Bicester. St. Martin’s Church in Bladon has been measured up for boxes which will be installed before next May. Over the last 18 months I have worked closely with Father Andrew Foster and the architects (including English Heritage) and builders working at St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Carterton. This is an important nesting site for Swifts with about 20 pairs in 2011. Essential repair work was carried out on part of the building during the winter of 2011/12. The builders left nest holes in the gable ends and also provided access under tiles. The gable-end holes were well used but we did not see Swifts going in under the tiles (poor weather limited our monitoring visits). We will continue checking next summer.

Cherwell District Council
Sue Marchand and I meet regularly.
1. We hope that provision for Swifts will be included in Council-owned property to be built at the South West Bicester site and also in the new Bicester Town Centre development, both now under construction. Paradigm Housing, one of the Residential Social Landlords at South West Bicester, also plans to include Swift bricks in new homes being built there. Swift bricks are also being included in the new building at Oxford and Cherwell Valley College in Banbury

2. The Council is compiling guidance on the incorporation of features into developments to encourage biodiversity, including bird and bat boxes, which will form part of the Sustainable Buildings in Cherwell Supplementary Planning Document (SPD).

3. The first showing of Swift Stories, the film which has been made to encourage more people to care about Swifts took place at the Council’s Countryside Forum on October 17th. The film will be shown again to planners and other relevant CDC staff in early 2013.

Highlights of 2012: 
1. I attended (not paid for by the project) an International Seminar on Swifts in Berlin in April. Over 70 people from 20 countries attended from as far afield as China, Russia, Turkey and Spain as well as many East European countries. I learnt a lot, met many people and feel we are now linked to a worldwide network of people all working for Swift conservation and with whom we can share ideas and information.

 2. 3 nest boxes have been put up on a building owned by the University in Wellington Square Oxford. David Lack recorded Swifts nesting in the Square in the 1940s and there are still a few pairs there. Now they have some additional options. Nest boxes have also been included in a new extension built for the Thames Valley Police in Kidlington; many thanks to Jocelyne Hughes and Chris Bottrell for these initiatives.

3. Sanctuary (the Residential Social Landlords of flats in King’s Avenue Bicester) put up 6 nest boxes during major repair work. This is the best area for Swifts in the town.

4. Chris and Ruth Powles created nest spaces in the gable ends of their old stone house in Kirtlington. This year they were rewarded when a pair of Swifts used one of the nest holes and successfully raised 2 young. Furthermore, they have a camera on this nest.

5. Swifts have nested under slates on the roof of Julian Barbour’s home in South Newington for at least 50 years. Last winter he asked his builder to raise a few more slates to provide extra spaces for Swifts and even this first summer Swifts have used at least one of these and investigated others.

6. Recently installed nest boxes have been used in both Adderbury and Islip.

Weather 2012: 
We could hardly write a report about Swifts in the summer of 2012, without mentioning the weather. How serious the effects of the wet summer were on the Swift population only time will tell, but it made Swift watching much less rewarding than usual. One illustration of the effects is that this year 16 birds fledged from 10 nests at Richard Woodward’s home in Combe. 3 of the nests failed due to the loss of one or both of the pair, but in each case a new pair had been formed by the end of the season. Amazingly therefore the remaining 7 pairs raised 2.2 young each. In the summer of 2011, 25 birds fledged from 10 nests at this site. The story from other monitored sites was similar and there were many reports of ejected eggs being found. It should be remembered too that some young birds will have fledged in less than ideal condition for their long migration. Two such birds were found grounded in the late summer and taken to Gillian Westray for expert care and rehabilitation, and were later successfully fledged by her.

Plans for 2013: 
1. Organise a town-wide survey of Swifts in Banbury.

2. Expand the project to villages where as yet we have no local Swift friends e.g. by arranging walks, film shows and talks.

3. Continue to urge that provision for Swifts be included in new developments as a matter of course rather than on an ad hoc basis.

My thanks to all who have recorded Swifts; talked to friends and neighbours, builders, developers and planners; climbed ladders and church towers; made nest boxes; been interviewed on film, organised walks; acted as ambulance drivers and otherwise supported the project.

Chris Mason November 2012

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