Monday 9 May 2016

Swift boxes at the BTO

When the Chris Mead library was conceived at BTO's headquarters, there had been a discussion about installing Swift boxes in recognition of everything that Chris had done in campaigning for Swifts. Chris was a pioneer, way ahead of his time, in recognising the problems that Swifts face and doing something about it.

In 2012, a conversation with Andy Clements, BTO director, reinvigorated the idea of installing Swift boxes at the Nunnery in Thetford. The most suitable buildings are Grade 2 listed, resulting in a protracted process, taking 4 years to get permission, and not inconsiderable expense. However, the persistence of David Agombar finally succeeded, so we, Action for Swifts, designed, built and installed 6 boxes on the east-facing chapel, together with an attraction call system and timer switch.

The requirements were for the boxes to be unobtrusive, to be painted a colour that matched the stonework and to not be attached to the stonework. It was also required that access doors be provided for BTO scientists to monitor the boxes for nest recording purposes.

The chapel has open eaves with protruding roof joists, providing a convenient space for boxes between adjacent pairs of joists. Two prototype boxes were built of which one, in discussion with the architect,  John Atkins of Thetford, was chosen as the template for the boxes.

The width and depth of these spaces varied widely so 6 custom made boxes were made, all with different dimensions. The paint used was Sandtex Mid Stone - a colour intended to match stonework.

The boxes are attached to the building by removing the bottom of the box, inserting 2 screws each side into the joists, then replacing the bottom.

Should Swifts occupy these boxes, then we have permission for 10 boxes, so a further 4 boxes may be added in the future.

The AfS team comprised Bruce Martin, Bill Murrells and Dick Newell

The following pictures should be self explanatory

6 boxes before installation

6 boxes installed

3 boxes at the north end, with tweeter on the left box

Close up of 1 box

Bill Murrells, Bruce Martin and David Agombar



  1. looking great. If its open eaves was access to the top of the wall blocked?

  2. Thanks Mark, the heritage people were concerned that we did not alter the stonework in any way (despite a modern concrete lintel over the window and modern bricks lower down in the wall), so making holes in the eaves for access to the top of the wall was not an option. Dick