Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Internal Swift nest boxes at the Hospital of St Cross, Winchester

Thanks are due to Andy Broadhurst of Hampshire Swifts for forwarding this story written by Catherine Gale, a great example of what to do in an empty roof space with open eaves.

The Hospital of St Cross is thought to be one of England’s oldest charitable institutions and has been described by Simon Jenkins as ‘England’s most perfect almshouse’. The Order of the Hospital of St Cross was founded by Bishop Henry of Blois in around 1132 to support 13 poor men. In 1445, Cardinal Henry Beaufort founded the Order of Noble Poverty, adding the Almshouse to the existing hospital buildings. The appearance of the Hospital has changed little since then.

External view
Several of the Brothers who live at the Hospital remember summers when large numbers of swifts could be seen and heard over the Hospital, but they report that there are now far fewer than there used to be. With the enthusiastic support of Catriona Morley, the Clerk of the Trustees at the Hospital of St Cross, Hampshire Swifts have just completed the first stage of a project that aims to increase the swift population at the Hospital.

In May this year, Tim Norriss and Catharine Gale of Hampshire Swifts were invited with Tim Walker to visit the Hospital and Catriona showed them the huge loft that runs the length of the Brothers’ Almhouse and another large loft over the Old Kitchen Wing. She was keen to find out whether it would be possible to install internal nest boxes for swifts in these lofts. After careful examination, it was decided that as the first stage of this project, eight internal nest boxes would be installed in the loft over the Old Kitchen Wing. This loft had been recently converted so was fully floored which would make the installation much easier.

Gaps between the rafters
As the buildings at the Hospital are Grade I listed, it was essential to construct the boxes in such a way that they were not fastened to the ancient beams against which they would be resting. Tim Norriss and Roger Maynard visited again to make detailed measurements of each of the gaps between the beams and the eaves to ensure that the new boxes – designed specifically for swifts - would fit snugly and allow the birds to fly straight into the entrance of the box via gaps under the eaves.


Box in preparation
Over the summer, Roger Maynard constructed eight swift nest boxes, complete with a concave, and on the 20th September, he, Catharine and Tim returned to the Hospital to install them. The nest boxes fitted perfectly into the planned positions between the beams. Sheep’s wool was used to fill in any gap between the entrance to the box and the beams to make sure swifts could only access the nest box, not the loft itself. Some years ago, wire mesh had been fitted under some of the eaves.to prevent jackdaws getting into the loft and in these places Roger carefully cut away the mesh so that swifts will be able to access the nest boxes easily and safely.

Swifts were seen prospecting for nest sites in the Old Kitchen Wing this summer precisely where the new boxes have now been fitted, so we are very hopeful that when the swifts return next May, some of them will take up residence in their newly created homes. Then, visitors to the Hospital (and their excellent Tea Room) will be able to sit at the tables outside and enjoy the wonderful spectacle of swifts zooming in and out of their nest sites.

Thanks are due to Catharine Gale for kindly supporting the costs of this project.

Installed next box

Tha Hanpshire Swifts Team!:
Tim Norriss, Catherine Gale and Roger Maynard


Monday, 2 July 2018

A living wall for Swifts

This is an example of a simple, low cost way of providing nesting places for Swifts unobtrusively.

We previously described Swift boxes on a parapet here including examples in Tel Aviv, Israel. Here is another example in the Katzenelson Elementary School in Givatayim of incorporating nest boxes in a parapet wall. There must be many examples of parapet walls that could take a solution like this.

Parapets are usually high, well above any living space, no issues of cold spots or damp incursion in the building - indeed, an ideal location.

The only thing is to make sure the nest boxes are well defended from rain and sun.

There is a video showing how well it works, and the pictures below should explain everything.

Thank you to Amnonn Hahn for sending us these pictures.
Almost invisible entrances (click picture for a closer view)
Before attaching the boxes

Amnonn with the nest boxes

Easy access for inspection

A view of an entrance from inside

House Sparrows are nesting in number 25

#parapet

Thursday, 28 June 2018

The attitudes of housing occupants to integral bird and bat boxes

This post is about an important piece of research at the University of Gloucester, in partnership with the RSPB, by Sarah Roberts on people's attitudes to having cavities for birds and bats in their houses.


Photo Sarah Roberts


My summary of Sarah's summary (which you can read here) is:

This research aimed to investigate householder attitudes towards integral boxes for birds or bats in order to better inform housing developers and other interested stakeholders involved in establishing or promoting the inclusion of integral boxes into housing developments.

and, the bottom line is ......

Despite 3 out of 142 people having experienced problems, 2 didn't care and just 1 thought it was a bad idea. The other 141 either thought it a good idea (75%) or were neutral (24%).

Thus, should any architect or developer have fears that bird or bat boxes might have a negative effect on their ability to sell houses, they can relax. The evidence is that their houses become more attractive to the buyer.

There is a lot more detail in Sarah's summary

Monday, 25 June 2018

Simple open eaves design

In 2012, I installed 6 under eaves boxes on the back of my son's house described here.
On the side of the house, I also boxed in the eaves in a very simple way. He has not lived there for 6 years, so I never visited, until recently, as he is moving back in.

by Dick

The reason for the visit was to rescue another Swift that had fallen into his drain. The cover that we fitted had seriously warped. The swift flew off OK, and at the same time there were about 20 swifts charging around his garden.

It seems that all 6 boxes on the back of the house are occupied and at least 1 of the 4 boxed in eaves boxes are occupied.

So I thought it worth documenting exactly how this was done. It should be self explanatory from the picture below.

It is constructed as a single sheet of plywood, spanning 3 joists forming 2 chambers with triangular entrances each end. A slot is cut in the middle to let the middle joist through and a wedge is screwed to the middle joist to separate the chambers. Battens each end close down the entrance size.

The home-made House Martih's nests have never been used, they are probably tucked up too far behind the fascia board.


#openeaves

Saturday, 23 June 2018

West Cumbria Swift Group

In this story the actions of the councillor illustrate how making good the harm caused by unthinking development is almost only achieved through the actions of interested private persons. No legislation can do the job: only the endless vigilance of people who care for the environment in general and the conservation of swifts in particular.

bLesley Anne Archer-Shirley

Over the winter, with the Swifts away for nine months, a major project took place in Seascale. In the recent past, fascias had been put onto the Sports Hall blocking off several Swift nest sites. Only two remained. Ken Mawson, a local councillor, encouraged the Parish Council to back a project to put six Swift nest boxes on the Hall in the hope of getting more Swifts back into the building. A Parish Council grant paid for the boxes and Group members, along with a friend who had scaffolding, erected the boxes on May 3rd. just before the expected return of the Swifts. As it turned out we had longer to wait than expected!

The boxes chosen were ordered from John Stimpson via the www.swift-conservation.org website at a cost of £15 each [now £17.50].

They are made from exterior plywood with a plastic waterproof roof. Nest forms were also purchased and fixed in the corners furthest from the entry holes.

Right angle brackets were fixed to the back of the boxes after being bent to enable them to be hooked over a 2 cm thick plank. A further bracket was screwed to the underneath of the box. This would fix the box to the plank. This preparation meant that the work to be done on the scaffolding was made easier. Only two holes were drilled into the sandstone wall and plugged. The wooden plank was fixed leaving a gap sufficient to allow the boxes to be hooked over. Finally, a screw was put in place to fix the bottom bracket and keep the box in position.

Future removal of the boxes would be easier and only two holes were drilled into the wall. It proved to be a good method, if anyone reading this is contemplating a terrace of their own.

The ideal conclusion would be to attach a call system of Swifts on the nest but, as this was not possible here, we are hoping that the presence of the last two established nests further along the building will be sufficient encouragement.


West Cumbria Swift Group has been active this winter and further projects included:-
1. The erection of home -made nest boxes and call system in Low Seaton to replace nest sites lost when a property wall had to be re-built.
2. A ‘Filcris’ re-cycled plastic nest box and call system onto a house in Frizington where there is a large screaming party.
3. Nest boxes under the eaves of a house in Cleator Moor where neighbours did not want their Swifts and intended to put up fascias.
4. A barn/garage in Gosforth has been re-roofed over the winter with all the nest entrances left intact by an enthusiastic owner.
5. A terrace of 4 Swift nest boxes on a property in Gosforth with call system
6. Two home made Swift boxes with call system at Sleathwaite.

Last Year’s survey results (our first) have been submitted to the RSPB and Cumbria Biodiversity Data Centre in Carlisle and we are now attempting to re-survey the 54 nest sites we confirmed last season and monitor the activity at the new nest boxes.

For Swift Awareness Week we had an open evening on June 21st in Gosforth Methodist Church Hall. With slide show and several ‘stalls’ displaying nest boxes , call systems, nest box cameras, badges, booklets and leaflets. After refreshments, we watched the local screaming party perform over the hall.

We can be proud of what we have achieved in one year and hope that spreading the word about what can be done by a few enthusiastic individuals will encourage even more people to have a go to help these unique birds.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Swift boxes in an 18th century brick wall

Helen Copperthwaite of Millgate, Aylsham, Norfolk lives in an 18th century maltings, with walls 1.5 bricks thick. (~350mm). At least that's what we thought when we started. She was keen to have Swifts nesting in her gable - so being something new, we decided to have a go at it.

Helen kindly laid on a cherry picker, as it may not have been sensible to work all day on ladders at that height.

Our idea was to remove a header and stretcher from the outer wall, then drill out any brick remaining in the middle producing a cavity 350mm long and 85mm high leaving a half brick between the nesting place and the room inside.

We would then cut a 40mm wide piece off the outer stretcher, replace the header with a Cambridge System half brick entrance piece and we would end up with a very nice internal nest space 350mm x 185mm x 85mm.

Where the wall was 1.5 bricks thick this went very well according to plan:

Stretcher, header and bricks in centre of wall removed
Nest concave inserted - bedded down in mortar
Bill Murrells pointing up the inserted components
Sliced stretcher and entrance piece mortared in.
The mortar will dry to a good match with the old mortar
However, unknown to us, in some parts of the wall, the inner bricks had been removed and replaced by studs (timber) and insulation, so we had a wall  only 1-brick thick (~225mm). However, in the places that we broke through to the insulation there was always a stud against the wall. So we screwed a rectangular piece of plywood to the stud, completely blocking any access to the insulation, leaving a nest space 350mm x 175mm x 85mm, similar to the space above. We think this is a viable solution to any wall that is just 1 brick thick.

The final result was 5 new nest places:

5 new internal boxes embedded in the wall.
To demonstrate the principle of how we fitted boxes in the 1-brick thick parts of the wall, these illustrations might help.

Outside view
Inside view
#Cambridge

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Queen Anne Car Park Cambridge

We were asked by Guy Belcher of Cambridge City Council to dream up something for Queen Anne car park. It should be a good location, in central Cambridge, overlooking Parkers Piece. The location is high, but accessible from above The walls were not suitable for attaching anything directly to them.

So we came up with the idea of a 'Stretched Model 30' - 6 chambers in each of 2 long colony boxes. It was important that the boxes were beyond the reach of vandals with long arms, so to secure it, we designed 2 brackets to hang from the top of the wall.

The two boxes came from just 1 sheet of plywood 2440mm x 1220mm plus a bit more for the ends and internal partitions. The roof and ends are both covered in 9mm PVC fascia board, none of the plywood is exposed to sun or rain. The plywood back is well ventilated.

This installation took a lot less work than installing 12 single boxes.

Arrival at the top of the car park
Assembling the cabinets to the brackets
The boxes are positioned to avoid entrances vertically aligned. Photo Alan Clarke
Ready for installation
Final installation

Computer views inside and outside the wall
Addendum:
Using the same design, but different fixings Colin Wilson arranged for 2 Stretched Model 30's to be installed on Camberley Theatre in the borough of Surrey Heath. Two more are to be installed on a local shopping centre:

Photo Colin Wilson

#parapet

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Swift boxes under very broad open eaves

Margaret & Ian Hobson of Beer in Devon asked asked us what would go best under broad open eaves, nearly 50cm wide, with about 33cm between the joists.


Beautiful view of the English Channel
Click to enlarge
The first idea was to have 2 boxes between each pair of joists with the entrances near the wall or near the outer edge. However, as we have no idea which the Swifts may prefer, we came up with a design for a double box between each pair of joists with one entrance near the wall and another near the outer edge.

We chose to give the entrance near the wall a landing platform, for no better reason than, in our experience, we have had more success with entrances near the wall with a landing platform than those without, but not enough evidence to be definitive. The landing platforms are grooved by making shallow horizontal cuts with a mitre saw.

The outer entrances face down at 45°. There are plenty of examples of success with sloping entrances e.g. the Zeist and Model 30 boxes.

As this was a new idea, we decided to have a go at it ourselves, and we then shipped the boxes flat-packed to their destination in Devon, where they were competently reassembled.

The boxes are installed by removing the bottom, screwing the sides to the joists, then replacing the bottom.

Preassembled box - landing platform on the right.
The bottom is configured so it is easily removed for installation.
It also provides a small step for the Swifts.

View prom above - 2 nice-sized chambers

Boxes reassembled, painted, concave glued down and feathered, ready for installation
4 double boxes installed

#openeaves







Sunday, 20 May 2018

Lymington Business Centre. creating a Safe Environment for Swifts

Thank you to Nick Windibank and Andy Broadhurst of Hampshire Swifts for sending us this story.

Lymington Business Centre
Lymington Business Centre occupies a building which was renovated in 1986 from its original use as a squash club. It consists of three storeys, the top level being of a wooden frame construction which has eaves on two sides with protruding rafters and is clad in slate.

The building is known to us due to its association with what are known locally as the “library Swifts” which form large groups over and above the nearby library but which we now know nest in some of the gaps above the slate cladding on the Business Centre. 

Slates showing where a Swift was trapped
In the winter of 2017 it was noted that there was what seemed to be nest material adhering to some of the slates and this was investigated as there was concern Swifts could get entangled.

It quickly became apparent that this material was in fact the corpses of two Swifts and a Starling, which had the misfortune to get trapped in the vertical gaps between some of the slates. We subsequently found out that a nearby resident had called the fire brigade on one occasion to free a bird caught in this way.

Having the opportunity to examine the spaces between the rafters we determined that additional nest sites could easily be created by attaching mounting bars to each rafter and then screwing a horizontal sheet to create the base of a nest site.


An example of 2 exposed rafters
showing the potential to create a nest site
Each sheet would have a nest hole and then be painted to match the rafters so rendering the whole assembly virtually invisible to passers-by. The original plan was to survey the two eaves in the summer of 2018 to determine which gaps already had Swifts nesting in them and then, during the close season, create new nest sites in the spaces not already used by Swifts or other species.

Examples of nest sites created between rafters
Concerned about the possibility that more Swifts would get trapped in 2018 we brought forward the plan, relying on the man on the ladder to determine whether or not there were gaps in the structure which could be used by Swifts. If not, then they were converted to new design Swift nesting sites. If so, they were left.

In this way 18 gaps on the rear aspect and 10 on the side aspect were converted to new nest sites, complementing those already present. At the same time all the gaps between the slates were sealed making it impossible for birds to get trapped in future.

To avoid disturbance to the tenants of the Business Centre, work could only proceed at weekends and in the evening and so progress was slow, especially on the side aspect when scaffolding was required to gain access to theeaves. The final nest site was created on the 7th May and birds were already entering some of the retained original nest sites.

This summer we will check out the occupancy of the remaining potential sites to determine what the baseline occupancy is, in the hope that in future years this building will develop into a major colony.

Thanks are due to Don Mackenzie, the owner of the Business Centre who enthusiastically supported this work and made a significant contribution towards our costs, Tim Norriss who designed the nest sites and Roger Maynard, roofer extraordinaire who actually did the work come rain or shine. Thanks are also due to Waitrose Lymington branch which, through their Community Matters scheme, raised a total of £ 451 for this project.

#openeaves




Friday, 18 May 2018

Trumpington Meadows Nature Reserve

Trumpington Meadows is a spacious expanse of flowering meadows, riverside, woodland, hedgerow and parkland. 

According to their website:


"... this expansive nature reserve and country park sits alongside the River Cam and Byron’s Pool Local Nature Reserve, straddling both sides of the M11. Created for wildlife and for people, it is a place to discover and enjoy nature, explore diverse habitats and wander by the river and through flower-filled meadows. There is a Wildlife Trust office and garden, allotments, and a range of interpretation features and hand-carved nature sculptures throughout the site. "

Trumpington Meadows is managed by Beds, Cambs and Northants Wildlife Trust

Action for Swifts was approached to see if it might be possible to increase the biodiversity of the site by installing nest boxes for Swifts. Initially, a Swift Tower was considered, but given that the offices on site included a high gable, it was decided to build a 10-box triangle colony box instead.

At the same time, in the year of Swift Awareness Week, Nature Picture Library was looking for a Swift project suitable for sponsorship. So what better, a high profile location on the outskirts of Cambridge with an ideal building for installing Swift boxes, and a benefactor looking for a Swift project to support.

Nature Picture Library makes a regular contribution to a small charity or specific project which is making a difference. They choose a different charity every three months. You can read about them here: https://www.naturepl.com/about-us and about some of the projects that they have supported here: https://www.naturepl.com/conservation

AfS has previously implemented triangular colony boxes containing 3, 5, 6 and 9 nesting chambers. With its shallow roof (30°), we decided to go for 10 nest chambers this time. It is a proven concept as most implementations so far have nesting Swifts.

We used this project as an opportunity to progress our attempts to determine whether Swifts prefer a dark or light interior. Half of the boxes are painted black inside.

Having carefully assessed the risks and devised a safe method of work, the body of the cabinet, weighing nearly 20kg, was installed by 3 people lifting it up 3 ladders. The central ladder had a reinforced standoff platform, which was raised every time the cabinet was raised. Finally, the middle person climbed the middle ladder to put the screws in while the 2 on the sides held it in place. The screws were carefully positioned in line with the internal timbers Then the front was screwed on. It all went very smoothly. 

A camera is installed in the top chamber, as this is the most likely to be occupied first, and all of the other chambers have been prepared for cameras if and when Swifts move into them. A tweeter for attraction calls is installed out of the weather under the box.

[At the time of writing, Swifts have already been seen approaching the boxes]

Front removed, ready for installation. Half the nest chambers are painted black.

A good height in a northerly facing aspect
Frontal view
Oblique view

Tweeter, installed out of the weather, and the AV cable.

[UPDATE June 2018: Swifts have been seen entering the bottom left box and the middle box]

#triangle

Monday, 7 May 2018

The boys are back in town!




John Day was inspired today when the first Swifts showed up in Potton - on schedule on 7th May. So he decided to parody Thin LIzzy's song, "the boys are back in town" with the following lyrics:






"Guess who just got back today
Them wild-eyed swifts that had been away
Haven't changed that much to say
But man, I still think them swifts are crazy
They were askin' if their nests were around
How they was, where they could be found
Told 'em there were some still downtown
That haven't been blocked up today
The swifts are back in town
(The swifts are back in town)...... "

Thank you John! It captures the moment perfectly.

Friday, 4 May 2018

Successful Project with a Derbyshire school and housing agency

This is a good story in the year of Swift Awareness Week
by Nick Brown

Last autumn a meeting was arranged by the Derbyshire Swift Conservation Project with Rykneld Homes with additional support from Derbyshire Wildlife Trust. Rykneld manages the social housing for NE Derbyshire District Council.

An Ibstock Swift brick
While most of their work is maintaining the 8000 houses they have already, occasionally they build new properties. Jude Milburn, Rykneld’s Community Involvement Officer, attended the meeting and took up the Swift cause. Liaising closely with us, he worked to get internal Swift boxes put in nine of the 50 houses in a new social housing development in North Wingfield, close to the village school (with some bat boxes in addition).

He also arranged for the Project to meet Rachael Peacock, the head teacher at the newly built village school. We explained how Swifts would make a great learning topic for the children – an idea she embraced enthusiastically. In addition, Jude gave her six Swift boxes to put up on the school. On 20th April, Rykneld organised a small ceremony to mark the completion of the new houses.

Swift boxes in 6 country colours
On a lovely sunny afternoon, thirty children from the school joined in by painting their six boxes in the colours of the flags of some of the countries the birds fly over on migration to and from Africa (Spain, Morocco, Ghana etc). This novel idea was first dreamed up by Ian Carstairs in Harleston, Norfolk so we can’t claim it as our own!

The children worked enthusiastically and the boxes will be put up on the school as soon as possible.

There are Swifts nesting in the village and we hope Rachael will be able to get the children to ask their parents if they know where, prior to us doing some survey work in the summer.

In addition, some of the children from the school will be moving into the new houses. Should they move into the ones with Swift boxes, Jude will ensure that they are made aware of their boxes and the reasons they were installed. Ideally we hope Jude will be able to engage with all the new tenants and to that end we will be providing him with copies of the new AfS leaflet and booklet to hand out.

Engaging the next generation

Job done!