Monday 22 December 2014

Cherwell Swifts Conservation Project (CSCP) Report 2014

We are happy to host this report of the activities of the Cherwell Swifts Conservation Project. CSCP is a good example of a number of such groups in the country who hope to establish a Swift Local Network in 2015 with a view to sharing experiences and ideas.

by Chris Mason

The worldwide network of Swift enthusiasts grows. So too does the range and extent of our own activities. This year we attended the International Swift Conference in Cambridge which was attended by over 150 delegates from 24 countries and we took part in a survey organised by the RSPB studying Swift populations. We further strengthened our link with the Cherwell District Council; we have been involved in discussions to set up a nationwide network of local groups which, like CSCP, are trying to help conserve Swifts (similar to CSCP) and established an important link with Oxford University Estates Services.

Our priorities remain: 
1. Finding and looking after nest sites.

Survey map. Click to enlarge
The RSPB is trialling ways to improve estimates of the UK Swift population. We took part in surveys organised by the Society. George Candelin, on a short assignment with the RSPB, spent long hours surveying Swifts in Bicester, Bloxham and Bodicote, and with a lot of help from Alison Urwick and David Yates in Bloxham and Reg Tipping in Bodicote, we now know pretty well which buildings are being used in these two villages, and even how many nests there are in each building. The results show that there were more than 40 active nests in each village this year, making them two of the best places to watch Swifts around here; also in Bicester George recorded nearly 20 Swifts nests just on one estate of 1950s council-built properties (Kings Avenue). There is a map showing the latest information we have about Cherwell Swift numbers by parish at the end of this report.

2. Creating new sites 
The Cherwell District Council is building 250 new affordable homes in Banbury and Bicester. The Build! Project enables future residents to get a discount on their rent or purchase price in return for undertaking some of the work themselves. We have been in discussion with the Council’s planning department and expect that nest places for Swifts (boxes or bricks) will be included at 8 of these sites. Swifts nests are also to be included in several new private developments in the District where the Council has made the inclusion of Swift bricks/boxes a condition of the development. Data from the CSCP about local Swift nest sites have been instrumental in these decisions. Nest boxes have been put up, and in some cases new nest places created under eaves, in Bicester, Epwell, Bodicote, Lower Heyford, Souldern, Swerford and Adderbury. We were particularly delighted to receive an invitation from Broughton Castle. Swifts have nested there for as long as anyone can remember, and we were asked if we would like to take advantage of scaffolding at the castle to create some new nest places under the eaves - which Reg Tipping and Bill Cupit did. 

Reg Tipping and Bill Cupit at work at Broughton Castle (left) 
and Bill installing a made-to-measure box in Bodicote (right)

Making the concrete base for the tower
In November work on the installation of a Swift tower at the Banbury Ornithological Society’s wetland reserve in Bicester was finished. The tower has a box with 20 nest places on a galvanised steel pole, and we hope that as Swifts nest nearby in Bicester and often feed at the reserve they will eventually find and use these new nest places. We are grateful to the HDH Wills Trust and the Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment (TOE2) for funding this project. 

Fitting the nest box on to the pole and the completed tower    

3. Generating Interest 

Swift Stories: The film was premiered at Kirtlington Village Hall in February and later also shown in full at Broughton Castle. On both occasions it attracted full houses (about 100 at each event) and an enthusiastic reception. Since then I have shown extracts of the film in Charlbury, Kidlington, Abingdon, South Newington, Bloxham and at the Cambridge conference, and have more commitments for 2015.  Copies of the film are available on request. The complete film lasts 110 minutes, but extracts lasting about 45 minutes are available, as is a 17-minute version suitable for use in schools. For more information please contact me or visit

We ran stalls at Village Festivals in Bloxham and Bodicote. These generated plenty of local interest, tied in well with efforts to find the local Swifts nest sites and resulted in several requests for nest boxes. We also had a stall at the market in Bicester, but shoppers obviously had other priorities that day.
Making Swift kites at the Bloxfest with David Yates    

Setting up at Bodfest with Reg Tipping    

Evening Swift-watching walks were organised in Leafield, Fritwell, Kidlington and Kirtlington. Oxford University We made a link with Estates Services in Oxford University. A lunchtime meeting took place and two walks were organised, beginning in Wellington Square and finishing at the Museum of Natural History to see the tower and watch nesting Swifts on the webcam. The aim is to encourage interest in Swifts amongst University staff and Swift-friendly building work at the University. On the second walk we were delighted to spot a Swift’s nest in Wellington Square (the second one we have found) where the great David Lack watched them 70 years ago. We were equally excited to be told that Swifts have been seen going into one of the nest boxes we put up in the square a couple of years ago.

My thanks to all who have checked on nest sites, sent in records, raised alerts about building work and made space for Swifts in their homes; to those who have organised walks and meetings and helped at fetes and other events; to TVERC for checking the records so carefully and submitting them to the Council, and to all at the Cherwell DC who have made such good use of the data; to BOS members who have helped to get the tower erected; to the ever-willing team of nest box installers and of course to Andy Russell for the wonderful film and setting up the website. 

Tuesday 16 December 2014

Premier Inn Cambridge

We previously reported on a press release by Whitbread, publicising their intentions to install Swift boxes in new Premier Inn Hotels.  One of the first Premier Inns to adopt this idea is the new hotel in Newmarket Road, Cambridge.

Front view of the hotel
All of the Swift boxes are on the back
Although, in an ideal world, it is best to plan nest boxes at the design stage, by good fortune, the geometry of the eaves of this building lent itself to adding nest boxes unobtrusively after the building was erected.

The building has broad eaves, with a channel along the top of the wall of an ideal size to accommodate Swift boxes. As there were no right angles, something custom designed was required, so Filcris undertook the building of treble boxes, tailored to fit the shape of the channel.

It was also important that the colour of the boxes matched the grey of the building, so Filcris chose a recycled material that could be painted the required colour.

As a result, the hotel now has 24 homes for Swifts (8 treble boxes) in groups of 12, 6 and 6.

It is planned to install an attraction call system by next May.

The following pictures are self explanatory:

12 boxes
6 boxes
6 boxes
Design model
Design model, internal structure

Monday 1 December 2014

Elizabeth Way Bridge, Cambridge

The Friends of Midsummer Common (FoMC) in Cambridge have noticed a significant decline in the numbers of Swifts in their part of Cambridge, so we searched for a suitable place for Swift boxes. It did not take long to realise that Elizabeth Way Bridge provided a good opportunity.

Elizabeth Way Bridge supports one of the main arterial roads into Cambridge across the river Cam. It forms part of the boundary of Midsummer Common. At the top of the wall under the very wide eaves runs a channel which looks as if it was designed to take Swift nest-boxes. The channel has a circular section so we thought the ideal design would be a recycled water-pipe nest box.

6 double pipe boxes installed
After consulting both Cambridge City Council and Cambridge County Council (who have responsibiity for the bridge) we were given permission to install the boxes.

We came up with the idea of a pipe box a few years ago when we installed a small number, 3 of which now have breeding Swifts and at least 4 have breeding House Sparrows. We documented the idea here.

A view across the river Cam
For the bridge, we decided to make 6 double boxes. We used 2 2-metre pieces of recycled water pipe cut into pieces 66cm long with some simple internal carpentry to make 2 boxes out of each piece. The finished boxes were painted with Sandtex, colour 'Mid Stone'.

The boxes are secured with small wedges, glued in place with silicon glue - brand name "Sticks like Sh*t" (and it does!)

Power is available within the bridge to drive an attraction call system.

The following pictures show how the boxes were constructed.

Components of a double pipe box, before painting
6 sets of components, painted and ready for assembly.

This project was a combined effort by Action for Swifts and Friends of Midsummer Common. Pictured (left) are Bruce Martin, Barry and Susan Stobbs .

Bob Tonks and Dick Newell installed the boxes.