Saturday 18 May 2013

Swift intervention in Ballyclare

Rodney Monteith sent us this inspirational story, written by Sharman Finlay. It will be interesting to see if their prompt intervention will be successful.

8 Filcris Zeist-style boxes and 2 speakers.
Photo Rodney Monteith
Close up of 1 box and a speaker. Photo Rodney Monteith
One could be forgiven for wondering why James Gault and I, Sharman Finlay, were devastated by the demolition in February of a derelict, charmless former supermarket in Ballyclare, Northern Ireland . When you find out that James is a member of Larne RSPB group and I am a member of the Antrim group, and that both of us are keen and active conservationists, perhaps it becomes clearer? The old building was home for many years to nesting swifts and the prospect of the birds returning from their long migration from Africa to find their home was gone filled us with sadness, almost to the point of tears.

Both of us await the annual return of migrating swallows, martins and swifts with eagerness; the turn of the season, the anticipation of longer summer days. My late husband and I had our children primed to spot the birds, rewarding the first sighting. The swifts' joyful screeching overhead as they zoom around like miniature fighter planes is a part of summer; something without which our area and our souls would be bereft.

What to do? Brenda Campbell, the leader of my R.S.P.B. group, immediately agreed that some intervention must be possible and we met in Brown's Coffee Shop to discuss Swift Action to Save our Swifts. Edward McKee, a master craftsman and all-round handyman offered help, as did Rodney Monteith of Greenmount College, an expert with experience in interventions to secure swift habitats. Kate McAllister offered support and ideas too. Plans began to take shape; boxes and callers would be ordered and approaches made to various people.

Attempts to secure funding from the demolition company and developer fell on deaf ears, but Gary Millar of Millar's Butchers, whose premises are very close to the former site, immediately offered to have swift boxes and callers located to the rear of his building and kindly offered to install them himself. Many people looked at me as if I were mad when I explained our plan, but Gary calmly agreed. This offer of doing the installation work removed the substantial charge which would have been levied for the hire of a cherry-picker. Naturally, we queried Health and Safety issues, but Gary was happy to use the services of a friend, a local contractor, Colin Patterson.

The time up to the arrival of the swifts passed very quickly and when I spotted the first swift on the 30th April, I began to get a bit panicky; Gary had been rushed into hospital that weekend; 10 boxes had arrived and 2 callers; Rodney had got the wiring and housing organised for the latter with the assistance of Edward. Was it all going to be in vain? Swift numbers were growing by the day, but my normal joy at watching and listening to their antics was tempered by anxiety. Brenda and I exchanged feverish text messages and liaised with the others. Result!!! Gary was not to be deterred and insisted on holding the ladder while Colin did the installation and 8 Filcris boxes and 2 speakers were in place by the end of the week. Gary's wife, Daphne, also an R.S.P.B. member, is monitoring the speaker system which uses the Kinter amplifier playing an SD memory card, as detailed on the AFS site, to ensure they are working. Needless to say, we have all been inspecting the boxes( from ground level!) and some swifts have been spotted flying very close to them. It is a case of watch these spaces.....

We have had publicity from our 2 local newspapers and hope that people will realise what else, other than a building, is lost when demolition and redevelopment take place.


  1. I realy enjoyed reading this. Too bad by the demolition, but very nice to read about the swift boxes.

  2. We don't know, the weather has been so bad in Northern Ireland, that there is little activity around the colonies, so monitoring is difficult.