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Letter to Michael Gove

I have written the following letter to Michael Gove. I’m not optimistic that I will get a reply or even that he might actually read it but we all need to keep the pressure up.

“Swifts are amazing birds that have existed here on Earth for over 50 million years. They are these days entirely dependent on finding a place to nest in the eaves of our homes and churches. Swifts have been in catastrophic decline in the UK for the last c. 30 years due to loss of their nesting sites caused by a) the introduction of plastic fascias and soffits to replace/overclad the timber that was once used and b) the fact that all houses constructed during that time have quite rightly been constructed to higher standards of insulation and air-tightness in order to reduce carbon emissions. This has resulted in our modern housing estates becoming biodiversity deserts and no amount of BNG ‘improvements’ will change that.

Here In the SE of England Swifts have declined by 70% in the last 27 years according to data from the British Trust for Ornithology. Swifts continue to decline at around 4-5% per annum. The solution is very simple – to provide an integral bird brick in all new houses to replace the nest sites that have been lost.

I am writing to ask that you mandate the installation of an integral bird brick at an average rate of one per dwelling in accordance with the British Standard BS 42021:2022, and as recommended by the RSPB, over 120 Swift Groups and many other wildlife organisations across the country. These bird bricks are cheap (costs start at £30), are easy to install and help our other co-dependant urban birds including House Sparrow and Starling. All these birds are Red-listed and are in decline. Starlings have declined by about the same % as Swifts for exactly the same reasons.

When the matter was discussed recently in Parliament as a result of Hannah Bourne-Taylor’s online petition reaching approx. 110,000 signatures there was cross-party support from everyone present, including from several Tory MPs including my own MP the Rt Hon Kit Malthouse, and yet the Tory minister present ended the meeting saying that the Government would not be taking forward the proposal. Why on earth not? The proposal would be at no cost to the public purse whatsoever. The tiny additional cost to developers would be added to the cost of a house. Approval of this would have the single biggest (huge) effect on biodiversity in an urban setting and would cost precisely nothing to the public purse. Compare this to the many millions already spent on BNG that will achieve very little in comparison. And you and your Government would achieve great respect and credit for doing it.

Please don’t repeat the spiel that your Government has come out with in the past that the installation of integral bird bricks can be dealt with adequately at a local level through the existing planning system. You and I both know that it is extremely difficult to achieve the required change through that method, and that it takes many, many years even if there are folk in the Council that are keen for it to happen, and that is not always the case. We do not have time! Our urban birds are in catastrophic decline for the reasons given above and we now know that the solution is simple. We just need you to act.

Britain now ranks bottom of the 14 European nations for nature connectedness. That is shameful. I trust that when you meet Hannah Bourne-Taylor this week you will do the right thing and agree to grant her request regarding the installation of integral bird bricks to be installed in all new homes.”

Tim Norriss – Hampshire Swifts

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