Why Concern for Swifts?
The fall in local swift populations, due largely to renovation and demolition of older buildings, is the primary reason for our concern for swifts
In 2009 the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) gave swifts a conservation status of amber, due to the decline in their numbers and colonies. The recorded decline in Scotland had passed that stage some years previously. As of 2019, statistics from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) indicated that between 1995 and 2016 there was a decrease in swift numbers in Scotland of 59% and an overall decline in the UK of 53%.
In 2021 swifts were given “Red” status following a noted decline across the UK of 58% from 1995 – 2021. Loss of nest sites is one of the main reasons for the loss of colonies, we need to do what we can to keep existing nest sites and colonies and to avoid losing them due to our carelessness.
Concern for Swifts was set up in Cambridgeshire in 1995 by Jake Alsop and Bill Murrels, who had identified significant local loss of swift nest sites. The primary reason was the negligent "tidying up" of older buildings, i.e. renovation and demolition without due care and attention. Enlisting the help of celebrated ornithologist Chris Mead, who was working with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) at the time, they formed an activist group in a bid to raise awareness and call for environmental reform. When similar problems were noted in Scotland, and when it became apparent that none of the official conservation bodies had taken note of this dramatic environmental change, Concern for Swifts (Scotland) formed in 1997 as a partner project.
It soon became apparent that the concern was widespread across Europe and the middle east, and that various groups and individuals in various countries were sounding alarm bells as they tried to take action to prevent the destruction of swift nest sites during the renovation of buildings
The wider project to conserve swift nest sites is international in its scope, stretching across Europe and into the middle East. Specific examples that highlight the problem include the replacing of pantiles with flat roof tiles in Holland (pantiles permit swifts to nest beneath them, flat tiles do not) and the placement of insulating boards on high-rise flats in Poland (which lead to devastating swift mortality with blocked access routes) and the government-funded conservation of historic buildings in Italy, France and Spain (where repointing old stone walls resulted in the removal of centuries-old swift nests).
Concern For Swifts (Scotland)
The Scottish project has links with groups and individuals working for swift nest site conservation in England, Holland, Germany, France, Italy, Poland and Palestine (where the Bethlehem 2000 project was cut short by Israeli bombing), Israel and China. Although the German and Dutch projects had already been established by concerned individuals by 1995, most of the projects have been set up since then and independently of each other, which gives the significant impression.
- Firstly that swifts are loved and admired by urban populations and felt to contribute to the quality of life in the urban environment. As swifts live in the same buildings as we do, some of us feel a special sense of responsibility for them. As swifts dance so freely above our urban streets, some of us feel an added respect for them.
- Secondly that the threat to swifts from refurbishment and redevelopment in cities has become critical to their survival in the numbers we used to be familiar with. This is now recognised by many concerned individuals and organisations across their (the swifts!) nesting range.
In 2010 a biannual international swift conference was initiated which takes place in different countries every two years. To date )2023) this has been held in Berlin, Cambridge, Szczecin (Poland), Tel Aviv and Segovia.
There is now considerable evidence (some of it documented, some of it anecdotal) that of loss of nest sites due to careless renovation of buildings or demolition for redevelopment results in loss of swift colonies with few examples of new colonies being found in the vicinity of the lost sites.
This may not be the only cause of the decline in swift numbers over the past 20 years, but it is certainly the cause which we are directly responsible for and can and ought to do something about. *( although admittedly pesticide use is another reason we are directly responsible for)
While the loss of nest sites far outweighs the conservation of active nest sites, happily there is an increasing number of cases where the action of responsible individuals or organisations has resulted in the retention or recreation of swift nest sites. Check out a few of the Successful Projects.
Raising awareness is key to maintaining and building on this positive movement.
1997 Launch of Concern for Swifts (Scotland) – supported by officials and elected representatives of GCC Housing and Property Services and of the conservation organisations.
1998 Edinburgh Biodiversity Action Plan swift species action plan.
1999 North Lanarkshire Biodiversity Action Plan - swift species action plan adopted.
1999 North Lanarkshire Council Housing and Property Services adopted a policy of swift nest site conservation, including installation of swift nest boxes
2000 Swift nest site retention/creation included in PAN 60 – Planning for Natural Heritage.
2004 Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act (2004) – makes it an offence to recklessly destroy an active nest site or to prevent/hinder a bird from getting access to its nest i.e. intention to destroy or disturb no longer had to be proven. Also includes an obligation for local authorities to further the interests of Biodiversity.
2004 on Tayside Biodiversity Action Plan (consultative draft)
2005 notes on provision for swifts included in Edinburgh City Council’s Planning “Development and Quality Handbook”
2005 Swift added to Scottish priority list.
2006 GHA sustainability policy includes “working with Concern for Swifts to ensure that swift nesting sites are preserved following GHA roofing programmes”
2009 Swifts given “amber” status by RSPB (birds of conservation concern)
2021 Swifts given “red” (endangered) status in the UK.