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Our first blog: how to start?!

Welcome to the Hampshire Swifts blog. This replaces the less than regular Hampshire Swifts newsletter and will provide a regular overview of what we are doing and what we hope to do in future to conserve Swifts in Hampshire.

One of our most high profile activities is installing Swift nest boxes and 2019 has been our most active year to date with boxes installed on hundreds of residential homes, churches, guest houses, hospitals and other buildings. The demand for nest boxes has increased year on year since we first started and whenever we run a display stand for Hampshire Swifts we easily add 10 - 20 people to our list of planned installations. Currently we have 140 or so households, several churches and a few other miscellaneous still waiting for boxes to be installed. Clearly at this time of year the short days and poor weather slows down the rate we can work.

Swift nest boxes, patiently waiting to be installed...

So how many boxes have we installed so far in 2019? Our records show that around 230 households have had boxes installed this year. At an average of 1.5 boxes per property, this corresponds to approx. 340 – 350 nest boxes, primarily in Alresford, Southampton, Fareham and Winchester. In addition, boxes have been added to a number of churches and other buildings, either on the outside walls or built-in to the eaves or inside of church towers.

Minstead boxes, painted and installed on a Brockenhurst church

We have yet to install over 200 boxes on 140 properties plus several churches and a school or two so, assuming we complete these in 2019, we will have created 600-650 new Swift nest sites in Hampshire this year although this figure doesn't include boxes installed through our arrangement with Winchester City Council.

Interior loft box at the Hospital of St Cross, Winchester

We are often asked how successful Swift nest boxes are in terms of the likelihood they will be used by Swifts and this is a very difficult question to answer for at least 2 reasons. Firstly, Swifts can take a long time to find and occupy new nest sites so time and patience are vital when waiting for boxes to be used. The majority of the boxes we have installed in Hampshire since we started will only have been in place for a season or two at most so much more time is required before we can even think about providing answers. Another factor is that we don't have the resources to check every box we install on an annual basis and so have to reply on householders informing us if their boxes are being used: however breeding Swifts can be very discrete and even diligent observers can underestimate box occupancy. Rather than worry about occupancy rates the key consideration should be that every occupied box is a step forward in conserving this species and even though the occupancy rate may never be particularly high overall, the more nest sites we create, the more will be used by Swifts.

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