Swifts in Selborne
2020 marks the 300th anniversary of Gilbert White's birth and it's only appropriate that Swifts should feature in the recognition of this event. Read the following fascinating account by Tim Norriss explaining how he has made this increasingly likely...
The Rev. Gilbert White often wrote about Swifts. In a letter dated 23 June 1787 he wrote: “The number of swifts are few, because they are stopped-out from the eaves of the church, which were repaired last autumn.” There is nothing new in this of course as it has been happening for centuries as we humans repair old buildings. When I re-read that passage in 2017 I couldn’t wait to check if Swifts still nested in Selborne Church and hot-footed it round there at the first opportunity to take a look. Sadly they do not. The eaves are filled with insulation preventing any access to where they must have been nesting 250 years ago. Fibreglass/rockwool insulation (and upvc fascias/soffits) are very bad news for Swifts. Some birds survived in Selborne church for a while as Gilbert later wrote about them there, but we do not know for how long. Discussions with the church wardens of St Mary’s Church met with a very positive response and we hatched a plan to try and get them back nesting in the church.
This wonderful building is not the sort of place where you can simply screw traditional Swift boxes to the outside so it needed a more in-keeping solution. With plans drawn up to construct six bespoke boxes to blend in with the existing eaves we obtained permission from the DAC to proceed with the work. Hampshire Ornithological Society (HOS) kindly agreed to provide the necessary funding.
It has taken a while but the work has now been completed - Feb 2019 - complete with nest concaves inside.
There were perhaps around a dozen pairs of Swifts nesting in Selborne in 2018 but they desperately need active help to boost their numbers. The two largest colonies in the village are both in old buildings in need of roof repair – one of these will be re-roofed this year. I’m pleased to say that six other swift boxes were put up on two private houses early last year and at one of these birds were showing great interest in the new boxes last July.
Roll on Summer 2019 and let’s hope it doesn’t take too long before Swifts are once again nesting in St Mary’s Church. We are very grateful to Rear Admiral Richard Irwin and his wife Dr Rosemary Irwin for their support, to HOS for providing grant funding and to local builder Paul Andrew for carrying out the work.