Saturday 2 October 2021

Low budget Swift Tower- Brigsteer Wetlands Reserve

Although Swift Towers can be quite expensive, it doesn't have to be that way if you use a simple design and volunteer labour. This is a good strategy, as Swift towers are known to be difficult to attract occupants, so success with a small project can always be expanded later on.

Robert Pocklington – a National Trust Ranger at Sizergh, South Cumbria obtained some funding through the Trust to make and erect an 8m Swift tower at their Brigsteer Wetland. Rob approached me (Graham Fell) of Kendal Men In Sheds as we have been making swift boxes for a few years and I had developed an inexpensive Swift Micro Caller. The budget was just £300 and I volunteered to do all the necessary work for the calling system and a 20W solar powered panel and controls to power it. I decided to use a 12V small motorbike battery with 9Ah power rating.

8 metre pole
We were lucky in obtaining an 8m telephone pole for free and the site was the edge of a wetland area that Rob had made some 7 years earlier. Each summer swifts were to be seen over the scrape and pond so he was sure a Swift tower would help to increase numbers in the area.

I approached a solar panel company for advice as I had never done this before and we decided to go with their system which was more than adequate for the Micro Caller. So the panel is mounted horizontally on the top of the pole which is not ideal for collecting solar power but it ensures the panel (and its stainless mounting sheet) is well attached to the pole with no risk of coming off. The area is known as the Lyth Valley and is subject to strong winds from Morecambe Bay estuary and localised flooding of the valley. A fellow Shedder I know made the wooden box to house the electronics from a 1930’s oak dining table and he came up with a solution of how to attach the swift boxes to a 9” telephone pole.

6 nest boxes
We made a triangular mock-up that allowed us to make boxes about 370mm long from local larch and we took advice from Ros Taylor of our local Kendal Swift Group and made the upper three boxes with side entry and the lower three boxes with entry up through the floor. There would be room on the pole for more boxes but we felt six to be about right. The boxes were made by the Sizergh NT volunteers.

I assembled all the electrical parts in the box which was well sealed against the weather and then car body underseal covered the whole box for waterproofing. We decided to have the system running all the time as this kept the 12V timer charged and then a separate switch allows the system to be switched on in early May and then off in early August.

Control electronics
Rob, myself and another NT Ranger then took the pole to Brigsteer and in about 5 hours we had attached the boxes, solar panel and got the pole into the hole. Then the wooden control box was attached near the pole about 3 feet off the ground for ease of access and to prevent flood water getting in. This was in September 2021 so we will see whether we have breeding success in 2022.

It was completed within the £300 budget with all labour volunteered. Though not visually appealing, the main objective of keeping within the budget and achieving a practical pole will in time prove to be a success.

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