Dear BTO,

Yesterday I caught up with the Love Minsmere live event by Chris Packham and Megan McCubbin that was live-streamed on YouTube on Thursday to highlight the hugely damaging effects that Sizewell B might have on the adjacent Minsmere RSPB and the Sizewell Marshes SWT reserves if it goes ahead. Well worth a watch here.

And the video that followed on (no doubt calculated by some cunning algorithm) was a BTO Science Shorts called Chain Migration in Swifts by a BTO scientist. Also well worth a watch here but I am disappointed when I see yet another scientist telling us that the reason for the (catastrophic) decline of swifts is not entirely clear and that they think that the loss of nesting sites has been important factor. “Think that”? No, we KNOW that. I suspect that if you ask any of the hundreds of volunteers in the 91 Swift Groups in this country that work tirelessly on behalf of Swifts publicising their plight and putting up Swift boxes they will tell you that.

Here in Hampshire I see the evidence every week. Let me give you just a few recent examples:

1) Ron Cooke in Southampton who as a young boy used to watch 50 birds in a single screaming party flying down his road. He watched them decline as houses were done up and holes were blocked as timber fascias and soffits were replaced with plastic. It got down to just one pair left in 2002 when he put his first box. It took four years for a pair to take up residence. By 2016 he had 12 out of 15 boxes occupied in his neighbourhood. This year he has had 34 of 39 boxes occupied.

2) Janet in Basingstoke who watched numbers in her road decline for the same reason. By this year it was down to just two pairs left (in the house opposite). And these are under threat as the couple that live there are getting on in years. When houses change hands they are often quickly done up and whole colonies are quickly lost. Janet contacted Hampshire Swifts this summer and has kindly paid for five boxes and a neighbour has paid for two more.

3) And Linda and Carlo, from another area of Basingstoke, also contacted us wanting swift boxes. They have Swifts nesting in their eaves as do several neighbours who, when we went to put up the boxes, were having plastic fascias and soffits installed while we were there! Some door-knocking and chats with nice people resulted in us getting seven boxes up. So hopefully another colony saved.

4) We have also recently put up 3 boxes for Robin in North Baddesley where both his neighbours have Swifts nesting in the gables. The houses on this estate are about 45 years and already about 15-20% of the estate have had plastic fascias and soffits installed. In my experience once some people start having this done then others quickly follow. Robin is kindly going to drum up support by door knocking and using his neighbourhood WhatsApp group to get more people interested and we will go back in April just before the Swifts return and put up lots more.

This last site is very important, not that they all aren’t, because it is adjacent to a proposed new development of 300 homes by the Ashfield Partnership that will commence on site early next year. These houses, like the ones recently completed at Luzborough Green, Romsey, will have Swift/sparrow bricks built in at an average of one per property. I’m very hopeful that if we can build up the numbers on the existing homes here then Swifts will more quickly take up residence in the new adjacent development.

And please do read my earlier thoughts on the Decline of Urban Birds here.


Urban birds decline
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So…

Dear BTO, I enjoyed the video but please stop telling us that the reasons for the decline are not entirely clear when it is staring at us all in plain sight. And more importantly we even know the solution – more Swift boxes, and Swift bricks in all new homes. If the reduction in insects or problems in Africa were currently causing more than a small fraction of the decline then surely a) it would not be possible to increase a local population so spectacularly or b) a drop in productivity would have been noted which I don’t believe is the case. It is quite likely they will increasingly become more of an issue in the future but at present they are not the problem.

Please keep up… the good work.

Tim Norriss

BTO member

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