Homeless neighbours need our help, says RSPB

PUBLISHED: 13:57 15 August 2012 | UPDATED: 21:44 20 February 2013

Homeless neighbours need our help, says RSPB

Homeless neighbours need our help, says RSPB

One of the UK's most iconic birds is being left homeless because of changes to our buildings.

One of the UKs most iconic birds is being left homeless because of changes to our buildings.

Swifts are one of our closest natural neighbours, making the long flight from Africa to the UK to nest in our buildings, most commonly in the roof space of peoples homes.

Swifts have declined by more than 70 per cent over the last 40 years and they have been placed on the amber list, meaning they are of serious conservation concern. The loss of nest sites due to building improvement or demolition is a major problem.

Swifts nest on buildings, especially old structures with lots of gaps and nooks. But these cavities are increasingly being blocked up in old buildings, while new buildings often lack them altogether.

The RSPB is urging people in Berkshire and Buckinghamshire to Step Up for swifts, as these extraordinary birds start arriving in our skies.

The wildlife charitys annual Swift Survey kicks off again this month, to help build a better picture of where the birds are still seen so that nest sites can be protected.

Samantha Stokes, of the RSPB in the south east said: Swifts are our neighbours.Some of us literally share our homes with them, but may not know they are there because they are such clean, discreet and considerate birds; really the ideal neighbours.

Many people celebrate the arrival of swifts as a sign that summer is here.

We also marvel at their ability to travel long distances very quickly during their long migration to and from Africa.

But their journey often ends with a thud if their old nest site has been blocked up.

Swifts nest almost exclusively in cavities in our buildings, and use the same sites year after year, so we can have a serious impact on them when we carry out repairs and renovations, or demolish old houses.

A lack of suitable nest sites is becoming a problem for them and we want to find out more.Thats why through August were asking people to tell us about any nesting swifts that theyre aware of. Its a simple but vital step for nature that anyone can take.

People can log their swift nests now at www.rspb.org.uk/helpswifts including information about groups of swifts giving their characteristic screaming call and flying at roof level, which usually means they are nesting nearby.

This is the fourth year that RSPB has been collecting information from the Swift Survey.

More than 26,000 nests have been logged since it began in 2009, more than half of which were in someones house and almost a third in buildings that pre-date 1919.

Miss Stokes added, The public response to the call for records has been overwhelming, and the information is being used to encourage developers, local councils and building companies to retain or create nest sites.

Now we need to keep the information up to date in order to see whether birds are returning, and whether the colony is stable. So if you did the survey last year, please help by taking part again this year."

The information that people give will be made available via the National Biodiversity Network (NBN). This helps local authorities, developers and architects, to consider the needs of swifts when building or renovating.

Some local councils and building companies have already started incorporating swift measures in their planning, protecting existing nest sites and installing swift boxes and swift bricks which provide new nesting areas for the birds.

The charity hopes that as more swift records are gathered, even more Councils and developers will do what they can to help reverse the declines.

The RSPB suggests a number of simple measures that could help the fast dwindling swift population:

  • Do not schedule any roofing work while swifts are nesting (May-August). Disturbing the nest by working too close to it, including erecting scaffold, can cause the birds to desert. Also, it is illegal to interfere with an active nest.

  • Leave any existing nest sites undisturbed where possible. Swifts will use the same nest sites again and again.

  • If you need to carry out repair work on your roof or fascias and soffits, make new nest access holes to match the old ones at exactly the same spot.

  • If building a new house, plan some internal nest spaces at the design stage.

  • If you are unable to do any of these, the other alternative is to fit a custom-made swift box.


A dry day and an unruly hedge can be enough to tempt even reluctant gardeners to get the shears out. However, the RSPB is urging people not to be tempted into cutting their hedges too soon, as they may disturb nesting birds and their young.

Warmer and drier August weather means people are more likely to get out and tackle any overgrown hedges. But, the RSPB recommends avoiding cutting hedges from March to late August in order to allow nesting garden birds to breed safely.

Its especially important this year as the wet and cold weather in the early part of the year may mean that some species have bred later than normal and are still using their nests and feeding their young. Hedges and bushes that provide berries should not be cut until much later in winter - February is ideal - as the berries are a crucial part of the diet of many species of bird such as song thrush, mistle thrush, redwing and fieldfare.

Richard James, RSPB Wildlife Adviser, says; The humble hedge is a place of safety for many birds, especially in urban areas, as they may be the only suitable nesting places for birds.

Although its tempting to trim up hedges at this time of year, our advice is not to. Its against the law to intentionally damage an active nest or prevent parent birds access to their nests, and while most of us would never dream of causing intentional damage to a family of birds, an innocent over-keenness to keep a tidy garden can be harmful too.

Were eager to make people aware of the risks. By early September most young birds will have fledged, so it should be safe to start trimming most hedges, but leave any with berries on until February.

Its been a particularly tough breeding season with unseasonable cold and wet weather, so birds need all the help they can from us. In this case, the best way to help is to do nothing at all, just get into a holiday mood by relaxing and enjoying the wildlife in the garden.

Get more tailored advice about what to do in the garden and when at RSPBs Homes for Wildlifewww.rspb.org.uk/hfw

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