Bishop's Waltham is a medieval market town situated at the source of the River Hamble in Hampshire. It has a foot in the South Downs National Park and is located at the midpoint of a long-established route between Winchester and Portsmouth. Many medieval and Tudor kings and queens visited the town to stay at the moated Bishops Waltham Palace which was destroyed in 1644 after the English Civil War; the ruins of which are now managed by English Heritage.
Ady Smith has lived in Bishops Waltham all his life. He tells me that in the 1960’s there were lots of Swifts nesting in the town but by the 70’s most were gone as Council-owned properties were ‘improved’ and insulated and fitted houses with plastic fascias and soffits. The ten or so pairs that remained nested in the old buildings in the centre of the town. In 2001 Ady obtained a donation of £3,000 from local people and businesses to buy 40 Schwegler Swift boxes.
He installed these on newer buildings around the town – and waited. It didn’t take long as one pair almost immediately moved into one of the boxes that year and reared a brood. Perhaps most likely a pair that had returned to their nest of the previous year to find it blocked up – and they were desperate!
Ady then bought and installed two of John Stimpson’s boxes but since then has used home-made ones. There are now 120 boxes in all in the town, 60 of which were erected in 2023, and lots of young non-breeding birds were seen investigating these last summer which bodes well for the future. And the number of pairs in boxes soared last year to 37, which raised 91 young, including many broods of three. In addition, there were 14-15 pairs nesting in natural sites in the town.
Bishops Waltham - young Swifts reared in boxes
Number of Young
All the boxes are completely cleaned out each year in order to reduce the parasite load in the population.
Two pairs nested last year in some of the ten boxes on Priory Court that were erected in 2022. And a young non-breeding pair also occupied another box.
On a house in Claylands Road 11 pairs of Swifts have bred in these 11 boxes for the last three years running. And during the summer there can now be up to 60 birds screaming overhead!
Back in 2001, Ady noticed that the pair that nested every year in the apex of his neighbour’s gable had failed yet again as the adults had stopped visiting the nest before it was time for the young to have fledged. He asked his neighbour if he could go in the loft to investigate what had happened. When he went through the loft hatch it was immediately apparent that the very high temperature in the loft space was the problem. The young had overheated and died in the nest. This had been happening every year for several years before his intervention. Ady got permission to block up the nest hole and has installed six boxes on the brickwork just below; two of these are now occupied by Swifts.
On his own house a late pair in 2023 was not noticed until 7th September 2023, when a Swift was seen by his daughter to enter a box on the front of the house. Two days later a quick peek inside the box revealed that there were two young Swifts almost ready to fledge! In fact, the first of these left the nest the very next day. This just goes to show how discrete Swifts can sometimes be at the nest and can be missed by even the keenest of observers.
Ady in front of his own house
Bishops Waltham is a pretty average market town with a population of 6,723 at the last census in 2011, though many more will live there now due to the recent building boom. There must be many similar towns throughout the length and breadth of the country. But few will have an Ady Smith with his passion and determination to help Swifts make such a dramatic recovery from the devastation caused when houses are fitted with insulation and plastic fascias/soffits. We all need an Ady Smith in our area. Well done Ady, thank you for your unstinting hard work.
Tim Norriss – Hampshire Swifts