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Hampshire Swifts install Swift boxes on Farmer Cluster

Updated: Jun 22

Hampshire Swifts have installed 31 nest boxes and 8 call players on the Allenford and Martin Down Farmer Clusters, south and south-west of Salisbury, facilitated by Megan Lock, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Farmland Biodiversity Advisor. Megan secured funding for the project from The Swire Charitable Trust through GWCT, Fordingbridge Greener Living and a Hampshire County Councillor Grant from Cllr Edward Heron. 

Tim, Roger, Wendy Reid (HS) and Megan Lock (GWCT)
Tim, Roger, Wendy Reid (HS) and Megan Lock (GWCT)

During recent surveys carried out by Megan across the Allenford and Martin Down Farmer Clusters (2/3 of the Martin Down Farmer Supercluster), it was noted that swifts were nowhere to be seen. When the farmers were told about this, they decided to try to change that and asked for help to entice swifts back to nest on their farms.

  

We spent three very enjoyable days with Megan visiting farms across the area to install the boxes on farmhouses and other farm buildings. And just to show that it often needs more than one visit to a site to confirm if Swifts are present, at the very first farm we visited there were Swifts flying overhead. This thatched cottage dating possibly from the 1700’s has at least three pairs already nesting in natural sites.

Two are on the rear with one nesting above a window where the timber lintel has rotted.

And another in a hole in the brickwork further along. And there was at least one pair nesting on the gable as we could hear it calling from here. They must be accessing behind the timber verge of the gable.

As you can see the thatch is completely wire netted, partly in order to exclude birds. I wonder how many Swifts nested here in the past before netting started to be used to exclude them. Oh what we have done to our wildlife. This is currently the only thatched cottage that we know of in Hampshire that has Swifts nesting in it, though I was told about a pair a few years ago that nested in one south of Longparish but I’ve not yet managed to locate it.

 

Megan Lock says: “It’s been fantastic. We’ve covered an area from Salisbury to Fordingbridge to Cranborne – the clusters together cover 17,500 hectares.

“These boxes provide man-made nesting sites, which recreate those sites that are disappearing. And the callers attract the swifts to let them know they are there, which greatly increases the chances of swifts using the boxes.

“It would be wonderful if we did get a nesting pair this year, but I think it might take two or three years, this is a long-term project for us, and I and the members of the Farmer Clusters will be monitoring the boxes and hoping for them to become successful breeding sites in the future. We are already looking at how to expand this project going forward.”

 

Tim Norriss, of Hampshire Swifts, says: “In the last 30 years data from the BTO shows that swifts have declined by 66% across the UK, and 75% here in the SE of England. There is no doubt now about why, as there's overwhelming evidence that this is down to a loss of nest sites, caused mainly by the use of plastic fascias and soffits. That is the cause of the problem across the whole of the UK. There's no credible evidence that it is loss of insects or any other cause.”

Wendy Reid, of Fordingbridge Greener Living and Hampshire Swifts Trustee, added: “Swifts tend to be found in urban areas because they like to nest in cracks and holes in the eaves of our homes so fewer nest sites are natural nest sites for them. You will often find them in cities and in villages, but they will go into rural areas, if there are sites for them.

“If you have a call player, when they're flying over they will be attracted to the sound, thinking that there might be other swifts nearby and then they will come down and check it out. Because they are site loyal, once they've got a nest site, they'll come back to that box to nest with the same partner, year after year.

“We are really excited to be able to expand the project from outside of Fordingbridge into the local farms and the wider rural areas outside the town. Over the next 3-5years we would like to see their numbers improve as more nest boxes are provided for them.”

 

The concept of Farmer Clusters was developed by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) in 2013 and they are designed to help farms join together over a larger area, enabling them to work collaboratively to find solutions, share ideas, and deliver greater benefits for wildlife and nature that can be implemented on a landscape-scale.

 

The model has now been adopted countrywide with more than 100 Farmer Clusters present in England, working with and supporting more than 5,000 farmers in their conservation efforts.


Thank you to the GWCT, the funders, and to all involved.

Roger Maynard doing the hard work while the rest of us just chatted.
Roger Maynard doing the hard work while the rest of us just chatted.

 

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