More than 30 bird boxes have been installed on farms across Hampshire, Dorset and Wiltshire to help swiftsreturning for the summer find suitable places to nest.

The Allenford and Martin Down Farmer Clusters, south and south-west of Salisbury, facilitated by Megan Lock, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Farmland Biodiversity Advisor, have installed 31 nest boxes and 8 calling speakers after securing funding through three grants.

Swifts migrate from Africa every spring but sadly these red-listed birds are finding fewer and fewer nesting sites as modern houses are built with no places for them to gain access to suitable cavities to nest in. Swifts like to nest below the eaves, in the wall and below the roof. Even old buildings that would have been suitable are being restored and insulated and potential nesting spaces blocked.

During recent surveys carried out by Megan across the Allenford and Martin Down Farmer Clusters (2/3 of the Martin Down Farmer Supercluster), it was noted that swifts were nowhere to be seen. When the farmers were told about this, they decided to try to change that and asked for help to entice swifts back to nest on their farms.

Megan secured funding for the project from The Swire Charitable Trust through GWCT, Fordingbridge Greener Living and a Hampshire County Councillor Grant from Cllr Edward Heron.

Swift Solutions

Volunteers from Hampshire Swifts spent three days with Megan visiting farms across the area to install the boxes, who designed and built the boxes and callers. In total, 31 boxes were installed on farmhouses and other farm buildings.

Eight sound callers covering 10 of the boxes were put up. These help to attract the birds by playing out the calls that swifts use when in their nest sites, which attracts other, prospecting swifts looking for potential nest sites.

Megan said: “It’s been fantastic. We’ve covered an area from Salisbury to Fordingbridge to Cranborne – the clusters together cover 17,500 hectares.

“These boxes provide man-made nesting sites, which helps to create those sites that are disappearing, and the callers let the swifts know they are there which greatly increases the chances of swifts using the boxes.

“It would be wonderful if we did get a nesting pair this year, but I think it might take two or three years, this is a long-term project for us and myself and the members of the Farmer Clusters will be monitoring the boxes and are hoping for them to become successful breeding sites in the future. We are already looking at how expand on this project going forward.”

Tim Norriss, of Hampshire Swifts, said: “In the last 30 years data from the BTO shows that swifts have declined by 75%. There’s no doubt now there’s overwhelming evidence that it is down to a loss of nest sites, that is the cause of the problem across the whole of the UK. It is probably slightly worse in the southeast of England because there are a lot more houses being built here. There’s no evidence that it is loss of insects or any other cause.”

Wendy Reid, of Fordingbridge Greener Living, said: “Swifts tend to be in urban areas because they like to nest in cracks and holes in buildings so very few nest sites are natural nest sites for them. You will often find them in cities and in villages, but they will go into rural areas if, if there are sites for them.

“If you have a call player, when they’re flying over they will be attracted to the sound, thinking that there might be other swifts nearby and then they will come down and check it out. Because they are site loyal, once they’ve got a nest site, they’ll come back to that box year after year, a nest with the same partner, year after year.

“We are really excited to be able to expand the project from outside of Fordingbridge into the local farms and the wider in the rural areas outside the town.

“Over the next three to four to five years we would like to see the numbers improve as more nest sites become available for them.”

Swifts like to nest high up, so the boxes are installed under the eaves of houses or on suitable brick-built farm buildings, consisting of two storeys or more. Another option to encourage swifts to nest is by installing swift bricks into walls of new or existing buildings. There are ongoing campaigns, by Hampshire Swifts among others, to have it made a legal requirement for builders to install swift bricks in all new homes being built.

The concept of Farmer Clusters was developed by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) in 2013 and are designed to help farms join together over a larger area, enabling them to work collaboratively to find solutions, share ideas, and deliver greater benefits for wildlife and nature that can be implemented on a landscape-scale.

The model has now been adopted countrywide with more than 100 Farmer Clusters present in England, working with and supporting more than 5,000 farmers in their conservation efforts.

(c) David Moreton

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