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 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