Swift conservation in Sussex in 2020
A summary by David Campbell, Sussex Ornithological Society Swift Champion
It is necessary to refer briefly to the tedious COVID-19 pandemic, as Swift conservation was inevitably compromised by the situation this year. Indoor meetings were either impossible or difficult to organise, while surveys and installation of boxes and bricks were either thwarted or complicated due by government restrictions somewhere along the line. Despite the many challenges, local groups continued to grow, as did the passion for Swift conservation in the county, and meaningful progress was made on several projects and issues.
The SOS produced an advice sheet on playing calls to attract nesting Swifts, as well as its own adapted sheets for recording the results of Swift surveys. These are available on request, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This summary will provide a succinct update on activity across the county, presented by site/settlement, or settlement-based group, in alphabetical order.
Activity this year
Updates are listed by site/area in alphabetical order, with Swift groups listed in underlined italics.
Ashburnham Place (8km NW of Bexhill)
Discussions were had with Paul Wenham, General Director, and Christian Cogley about installing Swift boxes in the complex. Christian and I walked around the site and identified a suitable position for four boxes on main building. The site itself appears suitable for Swifts but the likelihood of uptake is potentially hindered by its isolation (the nearest recent records of breeding Swifts being c3mls away). However, there is a strong will – and the funding – at Ashburnham to take a chance on helping Swifts and the plan is to install the boxes (complete with a playback system) before early May 2021.
Brighton and Hove City Swift Project
In responding to the Regulation 19 public consultation on the Brighton & Hove City Plan Part 2, RSPB and SOS have worked together to ask for the wording to be strengthened regarding the requirement for suitable developments to include the installation of Swift bricks/boxes. We have also asked that the wording regarding the protection of Swift nests at the main Brighton hotspot (the General Hospital) be strengthened so as to explicitly protect Swifts during the redevelopment of this site.
Surveys could not be undertaken this year but casual records were collected.
The RSPB was ready to develop a Communities for Nature project, with Swifts in Brighton a major focus, but the lead was furloughed and the idea had to be put on the backburner. It is hoped that what has been learned will boost the project’s start when that can happen.
Chichester Festival Theatre
The SOS was contacted by Nicky Wingfield from the Chichester Festival Theatre towards the end of 2019 about the possibility of installing nest boxes on their main building. Myself, Audrey Wende and Ken Smith met Nicky to provide advice. The building had to close before the boxes were delivered but in the meantime Nicky had been inspired to install a box on her own home! The theatre hopes to be able to erect the boxes in 2021.
Chichester Swift Project
Ken Smith surveyed the city in the 3rd week of July before looking at surrounding villages the next week but it was realised that this was a bit late in the season for a complete picture. 200+ Swifts were logged in the city and two big colonies were recorded near the Chichester Festival Theatre.
An SOS member ordered an SOS Swift box.
Hastings & Rother Swift Conservation Group
Ian Donovan – Chair and founder of the group – wrote:
“It has been a successful year for Hastings & Rother Swift Conservation Group, despite the pandemic. A fledgling group formed in the autumn of 2019, they held their first awareness-raising evening at a sold-out Battle Memorial Hall in February. SOS advocates Audrey Wende, David Campbell & Richard Cowser attended.
The groups initial plan had been to concentrate on Battle in 2020, but due to the pandemic, these plans were temporarily scuppered. As restrictions eased, box installations were requested and were fulfilled, primarily in Hastings Old Town, Hastings and St.Leonard’s on Sea. To date, the group have installed 22 boxes in these areas. Swift callers are also provided and installed where required.
The group’s most satisfying work of 2020 involved a listed building in Hastings where a group member noticed Swifts entering the eaves. A week later, scaffolding went up. Alarm bells! Ian Donovan negotiated with the owner and project manager leading to a solution to work around the nesting colony. The group are confident three pairs of Swifts successfully fledged young and the nest site has been left undisturbed for Swifts into the future after completion.
Requests keep coming for boxes and the group aim to install as many as possible before May 2021, when they hope to give more time to surveying traditional nest sites across the wider Rother area.”
The group has built an engaging website encouraging local people to join the group and offering to provide and install boxes.
The Group had a 5-minute slot on BBC Radio Sussex during Swift Awareness Week.
It was felt that Swift numbers may have been down 30-40% this year. This year, 14 existing boxes were visited by Swifts, including two where nesting was confirmed and four which were proven to produce fledglings. Of three incidental sites in buildings, a pair was confirmed as nesting at one and fledglings were produced from the other two. A box previously unknown to the group (up for 6-7 years) was used by Swifts for the first time (young fledged). Starlings or House Sparrows used 11 of the boxes. Two new boxes were erected but no interest was shown.
Lewes Swift Supporters (LSS)
LSS, in consultation with ourselves, have developed criteria whereby it should be a condition of granting planning approval that new developments would include Swift nest boxes or nest bricks if the criteria for doing so are met. Lewes Town Council have formally adopted the LSS criteria. Lewes-Eastbourne District Council planners have agreed that they will support any request from Lewes Town Council for such conditions being attached to planning proposals. One aspect is that, to be considered for the condition, planning applications must be within an area defined by LSS as important for Swift conservation on the basis of existing colonies. LSS have agreed to inspect development sites and act as consultants where necessary.
Ten Swift boxes – funded by SOS – were installed on Western Road on 14th October. The group advised and enabled residents to install a further 17 boxes at 10 sites across Lewes, including two double boxes at The Crown Inn.
Two lots of funding were secured to install 10-15 boxes in De Montford Road in 2021.
Police funding was secured for installation of four boxes at the Sussex Police headquarters and for a further seven boxes elsewhere in Lewes.
19 active nests were recorded at St.Anne’s Church and loose rubble was cleared to improve access for Swifts.
A visit to South Malling Church suggested that the eaves on the North side of the tower might be cleared to provide suitable nest sites without boxes being necessary. This work has now been completed by the Church Warden and the Eco-team of Trinity Churches, who intend to fit a Swift caller before the birds return next year.
1,843 records were gathered by volunteers for the LSS ‘Swift Watch’. 64 active nests were located and a new colony was found.
Shaun Pryor erected three Swift boxes on his house in time for the breeding season. Despite 20 Swifts being in the vicinity, none showed an interest in any of the boxes this year. Seven Swifts were seen around the breeding stronghold of the church but roof repairs are planned; the church wardens are to be contacted to ensure that the work will not interfere with the Swifts.
Wild About Warnham
SOS and David Bridges persuaded Horsham District Council to make the provision of Swift bricks a planning condition on a planning application for the conversion of an agricultural building at Broomlands Farm (Warnham) into four houses. The development is due to go ahead with Swift bricks. Even better, the landowner is supportive and expressed willingness to include Swift bricks in any further developments on his land (he is a major landowner in the parish). The Parish Council have been asked to consider the need for developers to make provision for Swifts.
Wild About Warnham is a local initiative started in 2019 and one of the project’s main aims is ‘Swift Action’, through which Swift nest sites are identified, landowners and contractors engaged with, and nest boxes/bricks installed.
As part of this project, a survey this year identified two nesting locations in the village (a single nest and an area with three nests) and a site where birds were observed prospecting (David Bridges plans to speak to the landowner). Homeowners near one of the nest sites seem open to the idea of putting a box up.
Outside the village, the main local Swift colony is thought to have increased slightly and four birds inspected nest boxes there.
Church authorities have been contacted about opportunities there. They are sympathetic but access is currently difficult as entry points have been blocked in recent years due to Jackdaws. Further inspection has been prevented due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Michael Howard of the National Trust was furloughed for the key Swift period so didn’t spend much time in Winchelsea. However, locals estimated a peak of around 70 Swifts over the summer, an increase of about 20 birds on last year. No new boxes were erected and none of those installed in 2019 were used. However, a few Swift ‘doors’ were fitted in putlog holes in the church to exclude larger birds such as Jackdaws and Swifts were seen using them. Further ‘doors’ may be installed over this coming winter.
Areas with the potential for a Swift group
A look through the SOS records of Swift in 2020 highlights the potential for Swift groups to have particular influence in Crawley, Steyning and Worthing. Feelers have already been put out in Worthing and there are several local people already interested in the idea. Haywards Heath is another area with the potential for a Swift group if enough interested individuals could gather force – there is a good colony at America Lane and any ongoing records would be appreciated.
Groups can be formal or informal but require a handful of enthusiastic local people to devote some time to protecting and raising awareness of their Swifts.
If you would like to be involved in a Swift group for one of these towns, or indeed another area, please get in touch at email@example.com and we’ll see if we can help bring you together with other local people.
Swift Champion aims for 2021
- Continue to provide advice for individuals and organisations seeking to help Swift conservation
- Suitable to any COVID-19 restrictions at the time, take a more active approach to Swift Awareness Week in June to raise public awareness, through ‘real world’ events if possible, as well as media engagement
- Keep looking for opportunities to encourage new Swift groups into being
- Encourage and advise Swift groups to lobby for Swift-friendly local planning conditions, following the successes in Brighton, Lewes and Horsham
And if you’re looking for a Swift gift…
Raise awareness of Swift conservation, support the Sussex Wildlife Trust and give (or receive!) a cool Swift T-shirt: https://sussexwildlifetrust.teemill.com/product/swift-t-shirt/.