Thursday 8 December 2016

SLN meeting Bristol November 2016

On 19th November, around 60 SLN members met at Bristol Zoo to hear about some of the latest developments in the world of swift conservation and – just as importantly – to meet each other.

Photo Bristol Zoo
Carol Collins chaired the meeting.

The morning kicked  off with Edward Mayer on Engaging Local Councils and Stephen Fitt on Developments in the Southwest.

Following lunch, we had Edward Jackson on Suffolk Swifts - our first 2 years, Dick Newell & Tim Collins on Nest Box Design and Jan Stannard on Building local interest through social media.

Finally we had 3 short talks: Peta Sams - News of Caring for God’s Acre’s New Project, Chris Mason - Oxford’s Swift City Project and Steph Morren – The RSPB Swift Survey and an update on the Swift Cities Project.

Notes and presentations have been assembled here:
If you want to get in touch directly with any of the speakers, contact details are on the agenda.

Jane & Mark Glanville. Photo Jon Perry

Peta Sams did a great job pulling this all together and we are very grateful to Bristol Zoo trustees for allowing us to use the Education Centre and its great facilities and we thank Jane and Mark Glanville and zoo staff for ensuring the day ran smoothly.

Some people are already talking about a 2017 meeting so if you have any thoughts do share them with the rest of SLN.

Friday 2 December 2016

Belfry cabinets without screws

We have recently looked at a belfry in Suffolk where there is no way of attaching nestboxes directly to the church fabric. Normally one can either screw the boxes to wooden louvre frames, or by screws into joints between masonry blocks. Screws into the masonry would require a faculty.

The church in question has flint and lime mortar walls, so it would not be sensible to attempt screws into the walls, even if permission was granted. The louvres do not have a frame adequate for supporting nest boxes. 

So, if this project goes ahead we plan to use a system that was first used in Holy Trinity, Haddenham over 10 years ago. Holy Trinity is on a hill and has slate louvre blades 350mm apart.

The church architect has kindly provided a PDF of this installation, which was approved by the DAC.
Download the PDF to see detail
We thought it worth publishing this now, as there will be many belfries suitable for swift boxes with this particular challenge.

The key idea is that the sides of the openings (the reveals) are lined with 25mm WBP plywood which is braced with 20mm diameter galvanised threaded steel rods fitted with locking nuts and pressure plates. Then the boxes are screwed to the plywood.

Any tapering or unevenness of the reveals can be filled with suitable softwood wedges.

The picture left shows the particular belfry we are considering and some outline computer models of what we might do:

Click on image to enlarge

Wednesday 30 November 2016

Guests of Summer

In 2013 we publicised Enric Fusté's research on diets for rehabilitated Swifts. Despite this, advice continues on various websites and in publications advocating diets that are harmful to Swifts.

Most recently, the otherwise highly regarded book about House Martins, Guests of Summer, by Theunis Piersma contains a short chapter on Swifts again advocating inappropriate practices.

As the book is published by the British Trust for Ornithology, they, the BTO, will do as much as they can to include in their publications, online and in print, advice not to use the information in the offending chapter.

The following words have been drafted for inclusion in all future books sold.

Guests of Summer - vital information for Swift rehabilitation

It has come to our notice that the chapter titled ‘Swifts’, pages 86-88, in the book ‘Guests of Summer’ contains much erroneous and misguided information on Swift rehabilitation and should be ignored.

Contrary to the information given, we now know that Swifts are difficult to care for and require specialist expertise.

Of special note:
Swifts are insectivorous birds, so they need to be fed only on insects. Diets based on any meat, cheese, cat food, or other non-insect food are ultimately fatal (Fusté 2013).

Swifts should not be thrown into the air; the technique for releasing a Swift safely is to find a large open space in still, fine weather, hold the bird in the palm of your hand, raise it high and it should go of its own accord.

If you find a grounded Swift and it refuses to fly, put it in a box on some fabric, and keep it quiet, warm and dark then find someone who is a specialist in this field.

There is a list of people who can rehabilitate Swifts in the UK here:

Basic advice is here:

More comprehensive advice is here:

The RSPCA or your nearest wildlife hospital may be another source of help, but make sure they know that Swifts are insectivores.

Friday 25 November 2016

St Vigor's Belfry

The roof on St Vigor's church, Fulbourn, containing 4 Swift nest sites under the eaves (described here), needed repairing. Although the nest sites could be preserved, it could not be done without the Swifts losing the 2016 breeding season. It was therefore decided to install nest boxes in the belfry for the displaced birds.

Before the 2015 season, we installed 8 boxes on the west side of the belfry. Attraction calls were played throughout the summer, and birds were seen investigating the boxes but no pairs became established.

However, in 2016,  2 pairs of Swifts raised chicks and a third box contained a small amount of nest material and an unhatched egg.

Following this success, a further 10 boxes have now been installed in the south side.

In both cases, only the top two louvres are accessible from the inside, the lower louvres being obstructed by a wall.

In most belfries,  a simple box cabinet with a vertical front wall is used. In the case of St Vigor's it seemed better to angle the front at 45° over the louvres.

David Gant, church warden lead the project, ensuring that the attraction calls were played consistently in both years

The following pictures show how it was done.

The south side - view from the inside
Computer model showing how cabinet fronts relate to louvres
2 cabinets before installation. The upper cabinet abutted against the vertical wall,
and the lower cabinet fitted below the top louvre
10 boxes installed. Photo David Gant
The entrance positions are dictated by the stonework resulting in larger central boxes

Sunday 20 November 2016

Sedbergh School makes Swift boxes

Thank you to Tanya & Edmund Hoare and Sedburgh Community Swifts for this story.

Our Sedbergh Community Swifts group was delighted when the Design Technology department at Sedbergh School in Cumbria approached us about a project to make swift boxes. This was a project with a difference however: Firstly, the pupils would make boxes based on the Stimpson design but then dismantle them and repeat the process as a production line exercise, to demonstrate efficiency.

Pupils developed skills using several different machines and techniques, including a table router, bandsaw, pillar drill with Forstner drill bit, jigsaw and bobbin sander.

They incorporated two design features:
1. A recessed concave made using 3D CNC machining: a separate base slots in so that the top of the cup is flush with the floor.

2. An acrylic housing under the box for an amplifier's loudspeaker, to keep it shielded from rain.Staff and pupils really liked the project, it was very different from what had been done before, and they are going to repeat it next year.

The boxes have been donated to Sedbergh Community Swifts so that they can be put up around town. We are choosing prominent places around the town so that the pupils, and everyone else, can monitor what happens.

This picture shows the pupils proudly holding their boxes.

Thursday 3 November 2016

Jane Goodall's Video Message for Swifts

It is not often that we reblog something, but we thought this was a particularly good video clip to promote Swifts and what we can do to help them. Thank you Martine Wauters for showing us this.

You can read about Jane Goodall's work here:

Monday 31 October 2016

Action for Swifts wins a Marsh Award

We were rather surprised, delighted and not a little embarrassed to be given a Marsh Award for Innovative Ornithology. 

We follow a rather distinguished set of previous winners:  2012 The BTO Cuckoo Team, 2013 Dr Christian Rutz, 2014 The Spoon-billed Sandpiper Team and 2015 Mark Constantine and the Sound Approach. And now, in 2016 Dick Newell and Action for Swifts!

The reasons cited for our award are on the Marsh Awards website

The awards for Ornithology are chosen by the BTO, and we were one of 5 Ornithology awards introduced by Andy Clements, BTO Director, and presented by Professor Dame Georgina Mace at the Society of Wildlife Artists Natural Eye Exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London.

To say we are delighted is an understatement, but even more important, we are so pleased that the cause that we all work for is recognised in this way.
Some members of the AfS team at the awards ceremony. From left: Helen Hodgson, Jake Allsop,
 Judith Wakelam, Dick Newell, Vida newell, Bob Tonks, Rowena Baxter and Bill Murrells
Photo Nick Caro

Sunday 30 October 2016

Internal boxes in Dry Drayton

In 2015, Rowena Baxter described her project to get  Swift boxes installed in Dry Drayton. This has resulted in a total of 8 out of 23 boxes occupied by Swifts in 2016. No Swifts were known to nest in Dry Drayton prior to the start of this project.

Rowena decided to take the plunge and install internal boxes in her gable at roof space level, using what has come to be known as the Cambridge System. Two external boxes under the eaves of the same gable, installed in 2015, housed one pair of Swifts in 2016.

Bill and Dick managed to install 3 half brick inserts and the boxes in one day. There is nothing new here, but we are pleased how it turned out. Technical details are:

The half brick inserts were cast in white concrete, then stained red.

The bricks each side of a vertical bond were reduced by 56mm to make space for the insert.

The nest boxes are made of treated external plywood: a simple "shoebox" with internal dimensions W 25cm x L 20cm x H 15cm. Flanges above and below the front of the box are screwed directly into the blocks, which are made of soft vermiculite. The top screws were angled downwards as this is more secure.

A simple hinged door on the back allows for inspection and maintenance.

The PVC pipe has an external diameter of 107mm. The pictures below show how the pipe is trimmed to span the cavity. A slot is cut in the top of the pipe as it is a tight fit. Mortar was placed in the bottom of the pipe to provide traction for the Swifts.

A 107mm diameter core drill was used to make holes through the blocks

Two eaves boxes and 3 new internal boxes
The external box on the right had breeding Swifts in 2016. Photo Clive Cooper
Close up of one of 3 entrances. Photo Clive Cooper
Internal box, showing hinged door and simple catch. Photo Clive Cooper
Components of the Cambridge System: entrance piece, pipe, nest box and concave.
Components in context
UPDATE July 2017: there are now 3 pairs in the 4-box cabinet, 1 pair in the eaves boxes and 3 pairs in the internal boxes, of which 2 are sitting on eggs. The neighbours down the street have a further 8 pairs.

One of 3 pairs in the internal boxes - photo Clive Cooper

#inserts #cambridge #swiftpic

Monday 26 September 2016

Another way of making entrances in situ

We have reported on projects that make entrances in situ, by using a former which is removed when the mortar is set (see here and here). Unless one makes many formers, one has to spend many hours waiting for the mortar to set.

This is another way of doing it by making a simple plastic insert out of a piece of 50mm OD uPVC pipe that stays in the wall. It is a lot easier to make these inserts than making formers.

As an experiment, I bought 2 metres of grey pipe from Homebase for £3.99 (see here). This pipe has an internal diameter of 46.5mm, which both Starlings and Swifts can get into. If such a pipe is squashed then it should exclude Starlings but still admit Swifts.

The pipe is cut into 40mm pieces, placed in an oven at 120°C for 10 minutes, then pressed into a D-shape using a flat piece of wood with another piece attached to it to control the height.

With a flat piece of wood 44mm wide by 29mm high, the width of the entrance piece is 57mm
With 30mm wide by 31mm high, the width is 56mm.

Starlings should not be able to enter either of these entrances, but the 31mm high one may be easier for Swifts.

Finally to give the Swifts some grip, the floor is scored with a soldering iron to make a toe-hold.
[Since this was written, we have found it more effective to make 3 saw cuts in the pipe prior to deforming it].

Disclaimer - this idea has not yet been tried on a project, but it is so simple and cheap that anyone could do it. Further work is needed to establish the optimum height that will exclude Starlings.

A piece of 50mm pipe, an entrance being shaped and a finished entrance with scoring.

Tuesday 30 August 2016

A Swift weather vane from Andy Jarrett

Those who visited our stand at Birdfair 2016 will have noticed the new Swifts Local Network logo. This was derived from a picture of a new, commercially available, Swift weather vane made by Andy Jarrett

The Swifts Local Network logo

Click picture to enlarge. Photo Richard Porter

Ever since I installed a Swift weather vane on my house in 2012 (see story), people have got in touch to ask where they can get one. 

Mine is a one off, commissioned by a friend as a birthday present, so, until now, I could not help them.

We are happy to feature here this rather nice picture of Andy's new weather vane on Richard Porter's house in Cley.

Andy Jarrett's contact details are:
Phone: 01508 53 8050

Friday 26 August 2016

The Manthorpe Swift Brick back story

The Manthorpe Swift Brick has been announced and is now in full production. It is well described on Manthorpe's website, so we thought it worth describing how it came about.

The origins of the concept go back to 2014 when Judith Wakelam wished to add more nesting places on the gable end of her bungalow after having success with an external nest box. Bill Murrells came up with the idea of making a Swift entrance piece to replace a half brick in the wall. 3 such entrances were installed, and since then Swifts have bred in one of them and have explored the other 2.

Bill's entrance pieces were fabricated out of pieces of clay air brick liner; we have implemented one other project using this idea. Since then we have found it simpler to cast the entrance pieces using a simple mould.  A further 7 projects have been completed using cast entrance pieces, mostly half-brick sized and one with a whole brick sized entrance.

Extensions of the idea by casting entrances in situ have also been completed, one such project in Spain resulting in 100 nest places in a castle.

There are case studies of all these projects here

In all cases, the final result is attractive and neat, giving secure accommodation for Swifts. The approach has been labelled "The Cambridge System". [We hope that the Cambridge System itself will be commercialised soon].

At this point, on a visit to Cambridge by John Day of the RSPB he thought that the concept might be of interest to Barratt Homes. RSPB and Barratt have a partnership agreement. In October 2015, a meeting was arranged with Technical and Design Director Michael Finn. Michael carefully assessed what we showed him, and commented that when they put accessories, such as ventilation grills, in walls they use injection moulded products and he asked whether it would be possible to have an injection moulded Swift box.

It so happens that, in 2013, we had looked at the potential of an injection moulded Swift box so we produced a computer model of what we thought would be a simple, cheap and unobtrusive injection moulded Swift box.

I dug this out and sent it off where it ended up with the design engineers at Manthorpe Building Products, who immediately understood what was required and produced a first design, including their own innovative ideas.

On a visit to Manthorpe's offices in early December 2015, Paul Stephen, RSPB, and I were shown a complete 3D-printed prototype. The level of thought put into the detail was impressive.

A few iterations later and the product has now been launched and the first examples have already been installed.

Injection moulds are expensive, but the per unit costs are low. So it took a fair bit of courage to commit to an untried and untested design. There would have been no other way of exploring this approach.

This project would not have happened without the partnership between Barratt Homes and RSPB. You can read the RSPB press release.

We look forward to hearing about the first occupants of these revolutionary new Swift boxes.

Monday 22 August 2016

Birdfair 2016

After the success of Birdfair 2015, we just had to do it again. For the second time, Swift Conservation, Swifts Local Network and Action for Swifts got together to showcase Swifts, their challenges and opportunities.

Edward Mayer of Swift Conservation gave a well-received talk at the Anglian Water Birdwatching Centre (AWBC) encouraging everyone to put up some Swift nest boxes.

On our stand, with plenty of help from SLN members, we got to talk to a large number of people including important celebrities, Chris Packham, Nick Baker, Richard Porter and Mike Clarke, RSPB CEO.

We had 3 TV monitors showing rolling videos, and an attraction call system drew people into the stand. 5 swifts flying in a mobile above the front of the stand made us easy to find. 

This all impressed the judges to the extent that we were awarded Second in the Best Stand Awards 2016, conservation category.

We had a first production example of the new Manthorpe Swift Conservation Brick, which was universally acclaimed as a game changer: It is mass produced, so is a low price, very easy to install, conforms to all building standards and is unobtrusive. It should gain wide acceptance by builders and architects. Chris Packham quickly got it, saying "this is the way to go".

We recovered our costs by selling John Stimpson Model 30 Swift boxes, attraction call systems, mobiles, badges and nest concaves, but more importantly we think we persuaded a lot of people to do something to help Swifts.

We will surely be back next year.

There are a few pictures below and many more pictures by Judith Wakelam here

Dick Newell demonstrating the Manthorpe Swift Conservation Brick 
to Chris Packham. Edward Mayer looks on from the right
Just some of the proud team members after receiving our award
Mike Clarke, RSPB CEO, showing off the Manthorpe Swift brick 
with Dick and Vida Newell

Dick Newell discusses the Manthorpe Swift Brick with 
Rebecca Pitman, RSPB Swift Cities lead.
A busy stand
Another view of the stand.
You can help Hen Harriers by signing this e-petition

Thursday 11 August 2016

Edgecombe Flats

In 2010, Cambridge City Council, helped by AfS,  installed 71 nest boxes on their properties at Edgecombe flats. In that first year, one of the residents, Peter Glass, played attraction calls from his balcony, resulting in 2 occupied boxes in 2010. Since then, 2 or 3 of the 4 boxes above the front of Peter's flat have been occupied by Swifts, but, as far as we know, none in the other 67 boxes on the site, until this year, 2016.

We have not said much about Edgecombe flats in previous years, because progress has been slow. The 71 boxes include 50 Zeist boxes made by John Stimpson, 5 boxes made out of water pipes and four 4-box cabinets.

A chick looking out of one of the boxes above
Peter Glass's flat, 2016.
This box is south-facing but has a double roof painted white
Having established occupancy in Peter Glass's boxes, in 2013 we installed a solar panel driven attraction call system with a tweeter in one of the 4-box cabinets, but this did not give a result.

The boxes above Peter Glass's flat were the only ones with major exposure to the sun, so they were given a double roof, painted white. This was an early prototype of the Model 30 now also made by John Stimpson.

In early 2016 we gave 2 of the boxes on the other side of the building a white roof, in the hope that the Swifts might recognise them. These boxes were also the closest boxes to the attraction system.

The result was that these 2 boxes were occupied, whether because of the white roofs or proximity of the attraction calls we cannot say.

In July, Chris De Ruyck of the RSPB was looking for suitable places to study Swift nest boxing projects, and so he spent some time at Edgecombe flats, resulting in him finding a total of 12 boxes occupied by Swifts, and many more with evidence of House Sparrows.

Some of the boxes occupied by Swifts also show evidence of previous occupancy by the sparrows, showing that Swifts are quite capable of nesting on top of a House Sparrow haystack.

Status map with thanks to Chris de Ruyck, RSPB
It is unlikely that there was a sudden increase in 2016, more likely we had not spent enough time monitoring in previous years.

Suffice to say, we are now optimistic that Edgecombe flats will grow into a major colony of both Swifts and House Sparrows. The success of this project should encourage other councils to do similar things. Projects like Fulbourn and Edgecombe show that it is all worth while.

The plan now is to inspect all of the boxes and do some maintenance, such as further wood treatment and reduce or possibly remove some of the House Sparrow nesting material.

The 4 boxes above Peter Glass's flat. These are Zeist boxes with an additional roof painted white.
3 of these boxes were occupied by Swifts in 2016
5 pipe boxes. These have been occupied by House Sparrows, and in one box the entrance
 has been completely blocked with sparrow nesting material. Swifts have not yet found these boxes.
There are 4 Zeist boxes in view on this aspect.
12 Zeist boxes are occupied by Swifts on the whole site.
One of 2 pairs of 4-box cabinets on the site.
There are House Sparrows nesting in these boxes, but no Swifts yet.

[Update July 2020: a careful, but quick survey looking for droppings below nest box entrances, chicks looking out and adults in or out yielded 34 boxes occupied by Swifts. Some boxes with chicks looking out had no droppings, and some boxes almost certainly contained non-breeders, so 34 is almost certainly an underestimate. Further, 32 boxes had evidence of previous occupation by House Sparrows in the form of grass or feathers in the entrance. 16 of these boxes had evidence of Swifts. There is a summary map here]
[Update July 2021: A minimum of 44 nest boxes with swifts were found, and 24 more nest boxes were added, bringing the total to 95]

#temperature #swiftpic

Monday 27 June 2016

Entrances cast in situ

When Barbara Wager, of Thorpe in Derbyshire, contacted us about how to provide Swift accommodation in a stone wall, we discussed various ideas, ending up with making entrances by casting them in situ.

This is a small-scale rerun of the Alcázar of Segovia project, where we, AfS provided formers, and the rest was done on site. In this case, the wall is 2 feet thick. The entrance leads to a natural cavity in the stonework, without any need for a nest box. The cavity is sealed with a board.

These pictures explain exactly how it was done:

2 formers
2 formers embedded in mortar

With formers removed, 2 entrance holes

A view from inside the building, with former still in place

2 neat entrances in the gable