Advice Note Regarding Swift Nest Site
Conservation in Sandstone Tenement Buildings
1. WHY TAKE ACTION TO CONSERVE SWIFT NEST SITES?

There is concern throughout Britain, and indeed Europe, about the effect that new building techniques are having on swift nest sites.

Extensive renovation works have in some places destroyed swift nest sites, and colonies have been lost.

2. THE OBJECT OF THE CONSERVATION PROGRAMME


is to retain the status quo regarding existing swift nest sites (and to create new sites in new buildings where there are known to be swifts in the area.) Often this can be effected without any adjustment to the proposed work. Where adjustment is needed it will be found to be minor and not detrimental to the works or the building.

3. IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE WILDLIFE AND COUNTRYSIDE ACT, IT IS ILLEGAL TO "INTENTIONALLY" DISTURB NESTING BIRDS.

But rather than stop works altogether, it is may be possible to permit swifts to continue to raise the current brood by making minor adjustments. Swifts are fairly tolerant once the nest has been established and will continue to feed young through scaffolding provided certain minimum standards are adopted.

However, operations at eaves level may need to be programmed accordingly. e.g. gutters should not be stripped adjacent to and over a swift nest. Flashing and faschia boards should not be stripped and replaced over and adjacent to a nest site until after the young have gone.

4. WHEN AND WHERE SWIFTS NEST AND WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Swifts arrive from Africa in May and start to nest soon after arrival. Presence of nestlings should be assumed to be a possibility until early August, although young will usually be off the nest by the end of July. The exact time taken to rear young depends on the availability of food and thus the weather.

In the sandstone tenements swift nest sites are usually at eaves level. Where work commences after the middle of May and before the middle of August, attention should be paid to birds flying around the building. It is not always easy to spot swifts nest sites quickly, so birds swooping around the building repeatedly can be taken as an indication that there are be swifts nesting there, as can small groups of birds chasing around the building uttering repeated shrill calls.

If you are lucky, observant and around the place much of the time, you will see swifts swoop up to or drop out of a nest site under the gutters.

Signs to look for are:-
• a small hole in the stone which may have (though not reliably) slight white splashing on the stone below it (often no more than a dot of white and present only on older nest sites)
• holes behind rhones (or down pipes) and at gable ends - swifts do seem to show a preference for these sites
• points of wear in the stone, broken stone or gaps in the pointing between stones (typically 60-150mm wide x 25 - 50mm high) giving access to the wide stone of the wall head. This is the sort of site referred to below also as a suitable site.

Swifts usually nest quite close to the edge of the wall head, as they are not very good at walking.

Swifts do also nest in holes in walls at lower levels, so the possibility of finding them there should not be ignored completely.

Swifts will also take over sparrows' or starlings' nests on occasion

5. WORK WHICH USUALLY AFFECTS SWIFT NEST SITES IS


• Installation of scaffolding
• Roof tile and gutter replacement
• Renewal to flashing and faschia boards.
• Renewal or placement of wall plates.
• Re-pointing the top course of stone.
• Window replacement can affect swifts nest sites if carried out from outside the building using scaffolding.

6. WHAT TO DO BEFORE STARTING WORK


i. Consider whether work will affect sites and/or remove them permanently (see below)
ii. Check records - an increasing number of local authorities have records of the areas where swifts nest. Developers should check with the planning departments initially and the local branch of the Scottish Ornithologist club (can be found on web-site "the-soc. fsnet.co.uk" ) Local people too may be aware of swifts and swift nest sites, (especially if there are pigeon fanciers living in the area.)
iii. Survey from the ground for birds flying around if starting work between May and August
iv. Inspection at eaves level (where swifts usually nest in tenement properties) may indicate existing or past lokely nest sites.
v. Builders are often familiar with these birds.
vi. Mark existing or potential nest sites with chalk for conservation.

7. PLACEMENT OF SCAFFOLDING

Where swifts are known or suspected to be nesting, scaffolding boards should be placed:-

level with or just above nest sites and no closer to the stonework than 150mm (to allow swifts to reach the nest behind the boards).

or no higher than 1.5m (to allow swifts to get onto the nest over the boards).
The ledging board is the main problem here.

If it is not possible to install scaffolding in this way, other solutions will have to be explored to permit the swifts to drop off the nest to fly.
N.B. Scaffolding poles should not be placed opposite the nest site.
Netting cannot be used opposite to a nest site.
As at August 2002, research on this is on-going on this subject and will be published later - any advice will be gratefully received.
8. INSTALLING NEW WALL PLATES

If a new wall plate is being put in place, this may create a problem, in that it reduces the ledge drastically. A visual check may reveal that uneven wear in the stone will still permit access to wall head in places. At suitable sites, a notch can be cut in the wall plate at intervals opposite to a suitable entrance hole. It would also be possible to leave a gap between each new section of wall plate - if it was close to an access point.
9. INSTALLING NEW FLASHING

Where new flashing is bitumised and/or over 50mm deep it will not permit access to wall-head destroy existing or potential nest sites New flashing should be no more than 30mm deep. Often this will leave some access holes showing below the flashing. Where the flashing covers suitable sites, it can be eased away from the wall slightly to allow access up to a hole behind it and bitumen seal can be omitted at these points.
   
If deeper flashing is essential for some reason, then it should be eased away from the wall at suitable sites to leave a space of approx 30mm between it and the wall. This will allow swifts to get up to wall head
   
Where there are good spaces behind down pipes, flashing should not cover them, but be stopped on each side of them.
 
10. FASCHIA BOARDS

As for flashing, new faschia boards may prevent access to the wall head.

It is possible to ensure that some holes still project below the faschia board. In some instances, the faschia board will not be tight against the wall and swifts will still get in under it (see photo of tenement in Tollcross, Glasgow, where swifts still get in after renewal of faschias)

If this is not possible, notches should be cut in the faschia board in suitable places
11. REPLACING RHONES/DOWN PIPES

Re-fitting rhones (down pipes) may block off one of the swifts' preferred nesting sites.

If there is a suitable access to a suitable space behind a rhone, it is easy to leave the status quo and not block it with cement or flashing material.

12. REPOINTING OF STONE


Repointing the top course of stone removes all small holes which permit swifts to gain access to nest sites.

It is perfectly acceptible to leave the top course of stonework un-pointed, as it is in any case protected by the gutters. Clearly larger repairs to stone need to be done - it is the smaller holes which we need to save anyhow. These, as suggested above can be marked for retention. This is also true of useful holes in the facing stone, some of which should be left alone. This technique has been used successfully in a number of projects.
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© ConcernForSwifts 2002