Since Hampshire Swifts was set up in 2016, we have received very few survey reports of Swifts nesting in Chandler’s Ford. What records we have for this largely residential area, situated between Winchester and Southampton, relate to just one small locality, Fryern. Data we obtained from the RSPB Swift Survey website when the Hampshire Swifts Survey was set up indicated that between 2010 and 2012 some of the houses in Fryern Close had several pairs of nesting Swifts, but we had no further records until 2022 when Hampshire Swifts volunteers found a pair of Swifts nesting at the back of a house in nearby Oakmount Road. Swift Mapper shows around 15 reports of Swift screaming parties over the Fryern Recreation Ground and the gardens of Fryern Close since 2019. So far this year there have been two reports of screaming parties of 10 birds.
All the houses in Fryern where we had records of Swifts nesting were built before 1950 with open eaves. These allowed Swifts, House Sparrows and other cavity-nesting bird species access via gaps or crevices to places to make a nest. A few months ago, Tim Norriss and I walked round the area to see whether there might still be some houses where Swifts could nest naturally. Most of the houses had had their eaves sealed against birds by the installation of plastic soffits and fascias. In one street, Greenways, of the 10 houses originally built with open eaves, all now have plastic soffits and fascias. Of the 44 houses in Fryern Close, only 8 still had their original open eaves. If the Fryern Swift colony is to survive, it is clearly essential to provide them with places to nest by putting up lots of boxes.
At the end of May, wearing my Hampshire Swifts lanyard and ID card, I spent several hours surveying Fryern for Swift nest sites. I saw between 6 and 8 Swifts flying low overhead. By watching from the Recreation Ground, I found one nest at the rear of one of the houses that still had its original open eaves, after seeing Swifts repeatedly drop down behind the house. Judging by the amount of bird poo on the wall below the entrance, this nest site was also used by Starlings before the Swifts returned from Africa. I was worried that a pergola being built at the back of the house might obstruct the Swifts’ access, but when I spoke to the man who lived there, he assured me that the birds could get in and out.
I asked everyone I met whether they knew where Swifts nested, but no one had any information, and some people were not sure what Swifts looked like. I explained that the Swifts had lost most of their natural nest sites in Fryern now that many houses had plastic soffits and fascias installed and asked if they would be interested in having a Swift box that we could install for them. One family was keen to have a Swift box, but others I spoke to said they didn’t want one, despite my assurances that Swifts were unobtrusive neighbours that rarely make a mess. One woman said the £40 cost of having a Swift box supplied and installed was too much but declined my offer of having a box put up free of charge.
Two of the people I chatted to had lived in Fryern Close for many years. Both spoke of Swifts with huge enthusiasm. Tony said there used to be large numbers of Swifts returning every year, but now he sees far fewer. He told me that two pairs of Swifts used to nest under his eaves, but to his great sadness they didn’t return after he had his roof repaired, despite him asking the roofers to leave gaps for them. He had made two nest boxes in the hope of attracting more Swifts, but although House Sparrows use them every year them, no Swifts had moved in. He was delighted to hear we could install some Swift boxes for him and ordered two. Louise invited me into her garden – designed very much with the interests of wildlife in mind – to point out where at least two pairs of Swifts used to nest under the eaves of a house whose garden backed on to hers. For years she had enjoyed the sight and sound of these Swifts every summer, but last year the house owner installed plastic soffits and fascias so their nest sites were no longer accessible and the eaves are sealed against birds, or indeed any other wildlife. Louise ordered a double swift box.
To try and find more people willing to have a Swift box installed on their house, I produced a flyer headed ‘Fryern’s Swifts Need Your Help’. This briefly explained why Swifts needed nest boxes, showed a photo of a Swift, listed a few amazing facts about them, said that Hampshire Swifts will supply and install a nest box for £40, and provided our email address. I delivered this flyer to 75 houses in the Fryern area that were suitable for Swift boxes, meeting and chatting to around 20 residents in the process.
I also arranged for the flyer to be displayed in the Fryern Community Centre, the Post Office, the Library, a Costa coffee shop, and the community noticeboard of the Co-op supermarket. I talked to staff at a dental practice, an estate agent, and a pet shop all of which are only yards away from one of the surviving Swift nest sites in Fryern but all these firms rented their buildings and there seemed very little likelihood of them being able to put up Swift boxes. Finally, I asked if I could speak to the manager of the branch of Waitrose, whose car park is next door to this surviving Swift nest site. Tim Norriss had previously emailed the manager about the possibility of putting up Swift boxes on one side of the store – perfect for Swift boxes, we thought – explaining the Swifts’ need for somewhere to breed but had received no reply. The manager wasn’t free to speak to me but I was told that my flyer about Fryern’s Swifts would be displayed on the noticeboard in the Partners’ dining room.
Many of the houses in the Fryern area used to be owned by Eastleigh Borough Council before they were bought by tenants. Now around 30 houses and a small block of flats are owned by three Housing Associations - Vivid, Hanover and Housing 21. In the hope that they might be willing to fund the installation of Swift boxes on some of their properties, I wrote to each of these Housing Associations. That was 3 weeks ago. So far, I have had no response.
As a result of distributing my flyer and chatting to residents, we received a disappointingly small number of requests for Swift boxes, just 5. Two of these requests were for double boxes, and one was for 2 single boxes, so there will soon be new nest sites for 8 pairs of Swifts in Fryern Close. We hope that as residents see these boxes going up, they too might decide to order a box.
While Tim and Roger were putting up the first of these boxes, they spotted at least two more natural Swift nest sites on the side of one of the houses whose eaves are still open. As houses in Fryern are sold and renovated, it may be only a matter of time before this house too has its eaves blocked off by plastic soffits and fascias. Unless we can get more Swift boxes installed in Fryern, this Swift colony seems likely to disappear.
Catharine Gale, Hampshire Swifts