Thursday 24 December 2015

Cherwell Swifts Conservation Project (CSCP) 2015

We are pleased to host another report, for 2015, of the Cherwell Swift Conservation Project. It is, yet again, a good example of what a local group can achieve (see 2014 report)

by Chris Mason

Our objectives are:
  • looking after traditional nest places
  • creating new ones
  • encouraging interest in Swifts   

Report 2015
This year saw the Swifts Local Network (SLN) established. The Network (which includes CSCP) enables groups and individuals working on Swift conservation in the UK to share experiences and expertise. We already have over 30 members, and it’s proving to be both popular and a great source of inspiration and help.

Edward Mayer and Dick Newell talking
 to visitors at the Birdfair Swift Stand.
In August, Action for Swifts and Swift Conservation organised a Swift stand at the annual British Birdwatching Fair at Rutland Water. Several members of SLN helped out and the display generated enormous interest on all three days. Do come and visit us at the Birdfair in August 2016 if you can.

Oxford’s Swifts
Much of my Swifts time was spent in Oxford this year. With other volunteers, I helped with a Swift survey for the RSPB which aims to:
          - establish the locations of nesting colonies in Oxford
          - monitor changes in Swift abundance through time and
           - raise awareness of and enthuse people about their local Swifts.

Regarding Oxford and Swifts, we think mainly of the Museum of Natural History. So it’s pleasing to know that there are thriving colonies in several other parts of the City.

Jocelyne Hughes and I undertook talks and walks in Oxford for staff at the University and Oxford University Press (OUP), and as part of Oxford’s Festival of Nature. We are now beginning to build useful relationships in the City. For instance OUP and the Council will take account of nest places which are recorded on properties they own, when doing repair and maintenance work.

Cherwell News
We knew that Bloxham School had nesting Swifts, but we only discovered quite how many when emergency repairs were needed at the school during the nesting season. Thanks to the alertness of local volunteers, the RSPB was called to advise about protecting the nesting Swifts and House Martins. Subsequently the volunteers were allowed to check the whole campus for nest sites. As a result we know that there are at least nesting 13 pairs. We now want to create a stronger link with staff and students at the school to increase interest and help monitor the nests.

Reg Tipping and Bill Cupit have again been active in putting up nest boxes. In Stanton St John which has only one building with nesting Swifts, boxes were installed in the tower of the parish church. Already in the first season Swifts have been seen approaching but not so far entering, the boxes. There was also a lot of interest in the boxes in Bodicote church tower.
With Councillor Mallon at 1 West Street Banbury
at one of the Cherwell Council’s Build! sites.
Cherwell District Council has been installing Swift bricks in its 'Build!' developments. Build! is the Council’s scheme to create about 250 new affordable homes in the District.

Alison Urwick and children making Swift
badges at the Oxford Festival of Nature.
We have continued to give talks and show the film Swift Stories. We had stalls at 2 major local events – the Oxford Festival of Nature organised by the local Wildlife Trust (where lots of children made Swift badges helped by Alison Urwick and David Yates), and the Wychwood Fair.

Walks were arranged in Cropredy and the Sibfords. Both evenings were memorable because we met the unsuspecting owners of important Swift homes (several nesting pairs in each) and chatted at length about their Swifts and the importance of looking after the nest places. Liz Moore made some very useful contacts on a walk in north Kidlington which resulted in requests for several boxes.

We took 6 injured Swifts and one Swallow from Oxfordshire to Gillian Westray in Laverton for her expert care. Thanks to her skill and dedication all the birds were successfully rehabilitated and released.

Also a young Swift which had been disturbed by building work was taken to Richard Woodward who has a nesting colony at his home in Combe. Richard fostered the young bird with a pair of his own Swifts which had a single nestling of similar age, and both birds successfully fledged after a couple of weeks.

Further afield
There’s a very good news story from nearby Daventry. Ian Dobson (another SLN member) persuaded the owners of the factory where he works to put up nest boxes (photo left). The boxes have only been up 2 years, but this year birds were seen flying into 2 of them. There must be plenty of similar opportunities we could propose at factories, offices and other non-residential buildings in the district. Any suggestions?
Finally please ask me if you’d like to borrow Swift Stories, or want me to show extracts to a local audience. It’s available free.

From early 2016 I shall have greetings cards of Swifts and some local churches (Horley, Carterton, Kidlington, Upper Heyford and Shenington) for sale. Do let me know if you’d like to see them or think there is an opportunity for local sales. Proceeds will go towards care and rehabilitation of injured Swifts and Hirundines.

My thanks again to all who have monitored and reported 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 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 good use of the data; and to the ever-willing team of nest box installers.

Chris Mason

Saturday 12 December 2015

Vine House Farm wildlife towers

As a result of being invited to give a talk to the South Holland Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, we had the pleasure of staying with Nicholas & Ann Watts at Vine House Farm, where, on a tour of the farm, I was shown a number of interesting towers, built for Barn Owls, Kestrels, Tree Sparrows and other species, which struck me as being a very nice model for a Swift Tower.

by Dick

Vine House Farm is an exemplary farm for wildlife conservation. Nicholas was awarded an MBE in 2006 and he won the RSPB 'Nature of Farming' award in 2013 (see here) and just recently, the Champion Sustainable Farming Award. The keys to success at Vine House Farm are many innovative ideas for providing habitat, including creation of ponds and reservoirs, hedges in parallel rows bordering meadows and other uncultivated plant life; provision of bird food and food crops; organic cultivation; and large numbers of nest boxes for Tree Sparrows, Barn Owls and Kestrels.

The farm is a profitable going concern of about 2500 acres, much of it used for growing bird food sold to feed garden birds.

You can read about Nicholas and the farm by googling e.g. here and here

Hexagonal tower with entrances for Barn Owls, Kestrels and Tree Sparrows

Square Tower with entrances for
Tree Sparrows, Barn Owls and Kestrels
One bird that is not nesting on the farm is the Swift, but what the farm does have is 6 brick-built towers which, to my eye, are a very good model for what an effective Swift Tower could be, so we thought it worth including some pictures here, in the hope of giving people ideas.

The hexagonal tower above has entrances under the eaves for Tree Sparrows and other cavity nesters, such as tits. There are also more Tree Sparrow nest boxes in the lower half. Larger entrances lead to accommodation for Barn Owls and Kestrels.

One of the square towers, left has provided accommodation for 6 species, including Stock Dove, Jackdaw and Mallard.

These towers were built using reclaimed bricks and local manpower for the construction. Such a tower could be built for something like £3000.

At 4 metres high at the eaves, these towers would require little in the way of modification for Swifts. Though not essential, slightly higher eaves, say an additional metre, could be an advantage.

The hexagonal structure, in particular, would make an attractive addition to any project, and could accommodate a substantial Swift colony.