While we might be spending a lot more time indoors at the moment, hopefully you’ve still been able to enjoy some of spring from your home. At the start of every year, many people look out for particular milestones such as the first primrose flower, frogspawn in your local pond, or the first fledgling seen in your garden. For me, the arrival of our swifts in late April/early May is one of those. Having grown up on a street with a thriving colony of these incredible birds, this moment has a deep resonance with me, and signals the start of a glorious few months with their screams filling the skies.
Swifts are one of our most charismatic urban birds and incredible aerialists. The BTO estimates that they can fly 300,000 miles non-stop between fledging and returning to breed. However, our swifts are in trouble. Over the last two decades the number of UK swifts has more than halved. Like many species, the causes of this decline are likely varied: climate change, habitat loss, loss of food abundance, and issues on migration. But perhaps the most important reason is the loss of nesting sites as the eaves under our houses are sealed up, locking out swifts from places to breed.
All this puts our swifts in a perilous position and the conservation need is clear. I was, then, surprised to find that there is no swift conservation group in North Kent. As such, by setting up the North Kent Swift Conservation Group I hope to fill this gap. My vision for the group is for it to become a strong voice for swifts in North Kent and to reverse the sad decline we are seeing in their numbers. Wouldn’t it be great for everybody to experience the same parties of screaming swifts that I had growing up?
To achieve this, I have set four aims for the group that I believe are key to achieving our vision:
- To become a network for individuals interested in swift conservation in North Kent to connect and share ideas.
- To contribute towards the collection of data on nesting sites of swifts within the North Kent area.
- To encourage building developments to be swift-friendly in their designs.
- To inspire individuals to work to preserve existing breeding sites and to put up swift nestboxes on their homes.
As a species that is hard to attract to new sites, preserving existing colonies must be our key priority. Faced with the rapid national decline of this bird this might seem like an overwhelming task. But I think there are several reasons to have hope.
First, swifts have taken perfectly to our urban environments and have been nesting around human habitations for thousands of years. This means that in many ways the solution is easy; they don’t require vast nature reserves of complex managed habitat. Instead a space in a roof eave or nestbox is perfect. Second, because of their simple habitat requirements, the cost of preserving swift colonies is reasonably small. Essentially the cost of a nestbox. This makes swift conservation very accessible and so small local groups can have a big impact. Third, if we succeed in halting the decline of the swift, what better symbol could there be for how humanity can successfully cohabit with nature? As our population increasingly urbanises, finding solutions for this is a key challenge for our time.
I hope this has inspired you to get involved and we would love to hear from you. Please join our Facebook group or email firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s work together to keep our skies busy with screaming swifts for generations to come.
North Kent Swift Conservation Group