Friday, 24 March 2017

A new Swift box in GRP

GRP (Glass Reinforced Plastic) is a waterproof material normally used for making boats, car bodies and other products which need to combine strength with light weight. So, Len Haworth decided to apply his boat building skills to produce a range of rather nice looking, very long-lasting Swift boxes.

In his own words:

"Since 2003 I have been using my boat building skills in GRP for the good of the birds. My company does not make a profit, any surplus either goes on development for more species or to buy the expensive materials which go into each box. But then I thoroughly enjoy what I do. Before I start the development of any nest box, which is a long and expensive business, I have to get the basic design spot on because later alterations are not possible with GRP (Glass Reinforced Plastic). I have consulted with ornithologists such as Chris de Feu, who I greatly value as an advisor and where it comes to Swifts, Edward Mayer of and I have had a long exchange of emails to get the basics correct. "

Certainly the first Swift boxes off the production line look the business. One can see the nautical heritage in the porthole-style entrances. All the fittings are stainless - as Len "does not do rust". For south-facing aspects, exposed to the sun, Len is producing a canopy to deflect the sun.

Each nesting chamber has dimensions; 300mm long; 200mm wide; 200mm high

The oval nest concaves are a novel idea, it will be interesting to see what Swifts make of them.

Boxes are available in 1, 2, 4, 6 and 8-chamber versions.

For further information and prices, contact Len at

Monday, 20 March 2017

A New colony box in Magrath Avenue

We first installed a 4-box cabinet, made by Bob Tonks on Helen Hodgson's house in Magrath Avenue, Cambridge in 2010. Helen already had one pair of Swifts nesting on top of the wall under her eaves, but despite playing attraction calls every year, by 2016, still no Swifts have occupied her boxes.

Click to enlarge
Few places are as stubborn as this. More recently we installed 3 Zeist-style boxes further along the eaves, but although attraction calls generate interest from the Swifts, they are as yet to become established in any of the boxes.

In 2010 there was a small tree in front of the house, which has now become a substantial tree. Trees in front of boxes tend to slow things down. Although the tree has been trimmed somewhat over the winter, one can imagine that it is still a disincentive for the swifts.

So, as a last resort, we have installed a 4-box cabinet facing out over Magdalene College. It faces the same direction as the eaves which contains the existing pair of Swifts.

The space between the drainage pipe and the end of the wall is 29cm, so enough to get a floor area of about 26cm x 20cm for each chamber. The headroom in each chamber is 15cm

The front of the box faces south east, so it is painted white to reflect the sun. The box is made of 12mm weatherproof plywood, and the roof is covered in 9mm PVC.

Grooves were cut below the entrances to provide some grip. This might assist the Swifts in gaining their first entry.

The picture left shows how it was constructed. There is a tweeter in the 2nd chamber up.

The cabinet is secured to the wall with anchor bolts which screw directly into the brickwork, without a rawlplug.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Swift boxes in southern Sweden

Benny Båth
We received this story and pictures from Benny Båth who lives near Rydsnäs in central southern Sweden. Benny has built many nest boxes for a range of species, but has only installed Swift boxes before last summer. He has some success already and useful experiences to share

Benny writes: 

"I have about 35 nests at 6 sites for swifts but I'm a bit unsure about the best way to place them. Some of my boxes are placed close to each other but it seems that the birds choose boxes with some distance between them.

I had seven boxes located on three different walls at my home and got one box occupied on each wall, it was then that I started to suspect they might prefer some privacy.

No occupants at the other sites were recorded, but I will open all the boxes soon.

I've noticed that the sound system is essential for fast results, I had swifts prospecting on all sites with sound systems (4) including the three nesting pairs with two chicks each at my own home. 

At the moment I  am building four internal boxes on my barn gable, facing west, the main reason is to get the nests out of the heat. I measured the temperature in the box next to the occupied box this summer. The maximum temperature reached 42°C!

I construct entrances by drilling a 64mm hole in the box and the barn wall and then fit one of the front plates outside. This plate is 9mm plywood with an oval hole of 60x30mm. I painted the plate soft yellow and around the hole with black so its seems more distinct from a distance. I got the idea to paint black near the hole from a post on Bristol Swifts website.

All three nesting pairs at my home chose boxes with this kind of front plate so it will be interesting to see if it was a coincidence or if it actually has some effect.

The farmers nearby are really cooperative and I have permission to install both internal and external boxes at many sites, this year I will have about 80 boxes and 8 sound systems up."

Benny has modelled his external boxes on the Model 30, but with a roof sloping at 15°. The material is plywood clad in 1.5mm GRP (Glass Reinforced Plastic) - so they should last for a long time.

It seems that, from a standing start, Benny has considerable momentum!

DIY nest box with removable entrance plate

Nest box with concave made of Asfaboard, a bituminous fibrous material

2 boxes installed on Benny's house

Entrances to internal boxes installed in the barn

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Another successful Derbyshire System project

We have reported before examples of entrances cast in situ, using an entrance former (see here). This has become known as the Derbyshire System after the first project using this idea. This is another example in Middleton-by-Wirksworth, also in Derbyshire, showing a little more of what is involved.

In Jack Roper's own words:
"My friend Rob and his old man came to create the nest spaces. They chiselled the mortar away to eventually slide the stones out of the wall, exposing the cavity. Some of the stones spanned the whole depth of the wall creating a hole directly into the loft space. They made four holes, two each side of the flue at the apex of the gable. We worked on a general rule of 200mm x 200mm nest space for each hole. 

After positioning the concave, setting it in place using a spat of mortar, we slipped a length of 65mm plastic tube from the loft to the edge of the nest space so that we could insert a speaker / camera if necessary. I've stuffed an old t-shirt into the tube whilst I get some plastic ends to cap them off properly. 

They then replaced the necessary stones, positioned the entrance former and mortared it all in place. In all it took four hours, including cleaning up the mess below!"

Stones and rubble removed from the cavity
2 completed entrances on the right
Rob working on one of the holes on the left
Finished entrance on the left

Hand-made concaves out of fibre-board and filler
4 completed entrances


Thursday, 26 January 2017

9 nest sites becomes 50 in Ludlow

This is a great story about what can happen when you put an active local group together with cooperative architects and developers resulting in a most satisfactory outcome

Robin Pote
For and on behalf of Ludlow Swift Group

Victory House in Ludlow, until recently home to the British Legion, is a large, rather neglected 4 storey building which has always had good numbers of swifts nesting in the roof away from the road. Up to 9 nests have been occupied in recent years. The sale of the building into private hands and rumours of extensive building work was of great concern to Ludlow Swift Group (LSG). Once plans became clear, a meeting was arranged with the ecological assessor and he was shown all the nest sites and left clear in his mind of the importance of the building for Swifts.

The subsequent report was extremely swift-friendly and was adopted with enthusiasm by the architects. As soon as work began to remove and re-lay all the roof tiles Ludlow Swift Group members were able to visit the site and offer advice. We were planning on suggesting box types, possibly swift bricks as replacements for the natural wall plate sites. However we were amazed to see the current sites, full of debris and old nesting material. So much old nesting material in fact that there was barely space for birds to nest and might explain why young birds have fallen out in the past.

Newly created nest sites
The wall plate was a substantial oak beam and quite deep, with free access from outside. The roofers offered to clean out all the wall plate spaces between the trusses and line each on three sides with ply to create secure spaces with no access into the roof behind and which would also prevent roof debris slipping in to nests as had happened before. Not all the ‘boxes’ are of equal size, and some may be too small. However, by the time they had finished the job the roofers had created upwards of 50 spaces suitable for swifts!! We await May 2017 with great excitement. This is potentially a ‘natural’ swift tower for Ludlow!

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Another nice result of the Cambridge System

Two things are new about this project: firstly it is an example using CJ WoodStone boxes inside, secondly it is one of the first projects implemented by someone other than AfS.

Jan Stannard's Victorian gable in Maidenhead is just one brick thick, so although there was no access inside the gable, it was practical to tackle this project wholly from the outside.

The project used 2 WoodStone build-in boxes and 2 homemade entrance pieces:

2 WoodStone build-in boxes and 2 homemade entrance pieces
Boxes and entrances in place

It was necessary to remove 2 courses of brickwork to install the boxes. This is rather more intrusive than one normally likes, but an excellent result has been achieved

The half bricks have been placed nicely to avoid aligned vertical bonds.

The homemade entrance pieces were cast using white cement and were then stained using Ecos Paints. One has to agree, the colour match is very good.

The nest boxes are the WoodStone® Build-in Hidden Swift Box


Monday, 16 January 2017

CJ commercialises the Cambridge Swift box system

The first batch of Cambridge System Swift boxes has been produced by CJ Wildlife with installations by the Duchy of Cornwall at Nansledan

Nansledan is a 218-hectare urban extension of Newquay to the east of the town. It has been earmarked by local authorities for more than 20 years as a way to meet the future business, housing, educational and health needs for Newquay in a sustainable way.

The Cambridge System has evolved out of a number of bespoke projects carried out by Action for Swifts in the Cambridge area, which you can read about here. Although all of these projects have been retrofitted into existing buildings, it is of course easier to install in new build. 

The Cambridge System is designed with the following objectives:
  • To be visually unobtrusive, embedded within the wall of the building
  • To provide secure, temperature-stable accommodation for Swifts
  • To be low cost, and easy to install
It comprises 2 components:
  • A brick insert containing the entrance in the outer wall
  • An internal nest box spanning the cavity and the inner wall
Although the Cambridge system is ideally suited for installation in gable ends at roof space level, in some situations it can also be installed at the level of the eaves.

In the CJ product, the entrance piece is cast in concrete and the nest box inside is made of WoodStone® to occupy the space of a building block.  The floor of the box contains concave nesting places for Swifts.

CJ Wildlife will have the Cambridge Swift System on their stand at the Ecobuild exhibition in ExCeL, London on 7-9 March.  More information is available from Paul Sears:

The following pictures show how it is installed.

Neat external appearance
WoodStone® box occupying space of one block
WoodStone® nest box inserted behind entrance piece

Thursday, 8 December 2016

SLN meeting Bristol November 2016

On 19th November, around 60 SLN members met at Bristol Zoo to hear about some of the latest developments in the world of swift conservation and – just as importantly – to meet each other.

Photo Bristol Zoo
Carol Collins chaired the meeting.

The morning kicked  off with Edward Mayer on Engaging Local Councils and Stephen Fitt on Developments in the Southwest.

Following lunch, we had Edward Jackson on Suffolk Swifts - our first 2 years, Dick Newell & Tim Collins on Nest Box Design and Jan Stannard on Building local interest through social media.

Finally we had 3 short talks: Peta Sams - News of Caring for God’s Acre’s New Project, Chris Mason - Oxford’s Swift City Project and Steph Morren – The RSPB Swift Survey and an update on the Swift Cities Project.

Notes and presentations have been assembled here:
If you want to get in touch directly with any of the speakers, contact details are on the agenda.

Jane & Mark Glanville. Photo Jon Perry

Peta Sams did a great job pulling this all together and we are very grateful to Bristol Zoo trustees for allowing us to use the Education Centre and its great facilities and we thank Jane and Mark Glanville and zoo staff for ensuring the day ran smoothly.

Some people are already talking about a 2017 meeting so if you have any thoughts do share them with the rest of SLN.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Belfry cabinets without screws

We have recently looked at a belfry in Suffolk where there is no way of attaching nestboxes directly to the church fabric. Normally one can either screw the boxes to wooden louvre frames, or by screws into joints between masonry blocks. Screws into the masonry would require a faculty.

The church in question has flint and lime mortar walls, so it would not be sensible to attempt screws into the walls, even if permission was granted. The louvres do not have a frame adequate for supporting nest boxes. 

So, if this project goes ahead we plan to use a system that was first used in Holy Trinity, Haddenham over 10 years ago. Holy Trinity is on a hill and has slate louvre blades 350mm apart.

The church architect has kindly provided a PDF of this installation, which was approved by the DAC.
Download the PDF to see detail
We thought it worth publishing this now, as there will be many belfries suitable for swift boxes with this particular challenge.

The key idea is that the sides of the openings (the reveals) are lined with 25mm WBP plywood which is braced with 20mm diameter galvanised threaded steel rods fitted with locking nuts and pressure plates. Then the boxes are screwed to the plywood.

Any tapering or unevenness of the reveals can be filled with suitable softwood wedges.

The picture left shows the particular belfry we are considering and some outline computer models of what we might do:

Click on image to enlarge

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Guests of Summer

In 2013 we publicised Enric Fusté's research on diets for rehabilitated Swifts. Despite this, advice continues on various websites and in publications advocating diets that are harmful to Swifts.

Most recently, the otherwise highly regarded book about House Martins, Guests of Summer, by Theunis Piersma contains a short chapter on Swifts again advocating inappropriate practices.

As the book is published by the British Trust for Ornithology, they, the BTO, will do as much as they can to include in their publications, online and in print, advice not to use the information in the offending chapter.

The following words have been drafted for inclusion in all future books sold.

Guests of Summer - vital information for Swift rehabilitation

It has come to our notice that the chapter titled ‘Swifts’, pages 86-88, in the book ‘Guests of Summer’ contains much erroneous and misguided information on Swift rehabilitation and should be ignored.

Contrary to the information given, we now know that Swifts are difficult to care for and require specialist expertise.

Of special note:
Swifts are insectivorous birds, so they need to be fed only on insects. Diets based on any meat, cheese, cat food, or other non-insect food are ultimately fatal (Fusté 2013).

Swifts should not be thrown into the air; the technique for releasing a Swift safely is to find a large open space in still, fine weather, hold the bird in the palm of your hand, raise it high and it should go of its own accord.

If you find a grounded Swift and it refuses to fly, put it in a box on some fabric, and keep it quiet, warm and dark then find someone who is a specialist in this field.

There is a list of people who can rehabilitate Swifts in the UK here:

Basic advice is here:

More comprehensive advice is here:

The RSPCA or your nearest wildlife hospital may be another source of help, but make sure they know that Swifts are insectivores.

Friday, 25 November 2016

St Vigor's Belfry

The roof on St Vigor's church, Fulbourn, containing 4 Swift nest sites under the eaves (described here), needed repairing. Although the nest sites could be preserved, it could not be done without the Swifts losing the 2016 breeding season. It was therefore decided to install nest boxes in the belfry for the displaced birds.

Before the 2015 season, we installed 8 boxes on the west side of the belfry. Attraction calls were played throughout the summer, and birds were seen investigating the boxes but no pairs became established.

However, in 2016,  2 pairs of Swifts raised chicks and a third box contained a small amount of nest material and an unhatched egg.

Following this success, a further 10 boxes have now been installed in the south side.

In both cases, only the top two louvres are accessible from the inside, the lower louvres being obstructed by a wall.

In most belfries,  a simple box cabinet with a vertical front wall is used. In the case of St Vigor's it seemed better to angle the front at 45° over the louvres.

David Gant, church warden lead the project, ensuring that the attraction calls were played consistently in both years

The following pictures show how it was done.

The south side - view from the inside
Computer model showing how cabinet fronts relate to louvres
2 cabinets before installation. The upper cabinet abutted against the vertical wall,
and the lower cabinet fitted below the top louvre
10 boxes installed. Photo David Gant
The entrance positions are dictated by the stonework resulting in larger central boxes

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Sedburgh School makes Swift boxes

Thank you to Tanya & Edmund Hoare and Sedburgh Community Swifts for this story.

Our Sedbergh Community Swifts group was delighted when the Design Technology department at Sedbergh School in Cumbria approached us about a project to make swift boxes. This was a project with a difference however: Firstly, the pupils would make boxes based on the Stimpson design but then dismantle them and repeat the process as a production line exercise, to demonstrate efficiency.

Pupils developed skills using several different machines and techniques, including a table router, bandsaw, pillar drill with Forstner drill bit, jigsaw and bobbin sander.

They incorporated two design features:
1. A recessed concave made using 3D CNC machining: a separate base slots in so that the top of the cup is flush with the floor.

2. An acrylic housing under the box for an amplifier's loudspeaker, to keep it shielded from rain.Staff and pupils really liked the project, it was very different from what had been done before, and they are going to repeat it next year.

The boxes have been donated to Sedbergh Community Swifts so that they can be put up around town. We are choosing prominent places around the town so that the pupils, and everyone else, can monitor what happens.

This picture shows the pupils proudly holding their boxes.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Jane Goodall's Video Message for Swifts

It is not often that we reblog something, but we thought this was a particularly good video clip to promote Swifts and what we can do to help them. Thank you Martine Wauters for showing us this.

You can read about Jane Goodall's work here:

Monday, 31 October 2016

Action for Swifts wins a Marsh Award

We were rather surprised, delighted and not a little embarrassed to be given a Marsh Award for Innovative Ornithology. 

We follow a rather distinguished set of previous winners:  2012 The BTO Cuckoo Team, 2013 Dr Christian Rutz, 2014 The Spoon-billed Sandpiper Team and 2015 Mark Constantine and the Sound Approach. And now, in 2016 Dick Newell and Action for Swifts!

The reasons cited for our award are on the Marsh Awards website

The awards for Ornithology are chosen by the BTO, and we were one of 5 Ornithology awards introduced by Andy Clements, BTO Director, and presented by Professor Dame Georgina Mace at the Society of Wildlife Artists Natural Eye Exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London.

To say we are delighted is an understatement, but even more important, we are so pleased that the cause that we all work for is recognised in this way.
Some members of the AfS team at the awards ceremony. From left: Helen Hodgson, Jake Allsop,
 Judith Wakelam, Dick Newell, Vida newell, Bob Tonks, Rowena Baxter and Bill Murrells
Photo Nick Caro

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Internal boxes in Dry Drayton

In 2015, Rowena Baxter described her project to get  Swift boxes installed in Dry Drayton. This has resulted in a total of 8 out of 23 boxes occupied by Swifts in 2016. No Swifts were known to nest in Dry Drayton prior to the start of this project.

Rowena decided to take the plunge and install internal boxes in her gable at roof space level, using what has come to be known as the Cambridge System. Two external boxes under the eaves of the same gable, installed in 2015, housed one pair of Swifts in 2016.

Bill and Dick managed to install 3 half brick inserts and the boxes in one day. There is nothing new here, but we are pleased how it turned out. Technical details are:

The half brick inserts were cast in white concrete, then stained red.

The bricks each side of a vertical bond were reduced by 56mm to make space for the insert.

The nest boxes are made of treated external plywood: a simple "shoebox" with internal dimensions W 25cm x L 20cm x H 15cm. Flanges above and below the front of the box are screwed directly into the blocks, which are made of soft vermiculite. The top screws were angled downwards as this is more secure.

A simple hinged door on the back allows for inspection and maintenance.

The PVC pipe has an external diameter of 107mm. The pictures below show how the pipe is trimmed to span the cavity. A slot is cut in the top of the pipe as it is a tight fit. Mortar was placed in the bottom of the pipe to provide traction for the Swifts.

A 107mm diameter core drill was used to make holes through the blocks

Two eaves boxes and 3 new internal boxes
The external box on the right had breeding Swifts in 2016. Photo Clive Cooper
Close up of one of 3 entrances. Photo Clive Cooper
Internal box, showing hinged door and simple catch. Photo Clive Cooper
Components of the Cambridge System: entrance piece, pipe, nest box and concave.
Components in context
#inserts #cambridge

Monday, 26 September 2016

Another way of making entrances in situ

We have reported on projects that make entrances in situ, by using a former which is removed when the mortar is set (see here and here). Unless one makes many formers, one has to spend many hours waiting for the mortar to set.

This is another way of doing it by making a simple plastic insert out of a piece of 50mm OD uPVC pipe that stays in the wall. It is a lot easier to make these inserts than making formers.

As an experiment, I bought 2 metres of grey pipe from Homebase for £3.99 (see here). This pipe has an internal diameter of 46.5mm, which both Starlings and Swifts can get into. If such a pipe is squashed then it should exclude Starlings but still admit Swifts.

The pipe is cut into 40mm pieces, placed in an oven at 120°C for 10 minutes, then pressed into a D-shape using a flat piece of wood with another piece attached to it to control the height.

With a flat piece of wood 44mm wide by 29mm high, the width of the entrance piece is 57mm
With 30mm wide by 31mm high, the width is 56mm.

Starlings should not be able to enter either of these entrances, but the 31mm high one may be easier for Swifts.

Finally to give the Swifts some grip, the floor is scored with a soldering iron to make a toe-hold.
[Since this was written, we have found it more effective to make 3 saw cuts in the pipe prior to deforming it].

Disclaimer - this idea has not yet been tried on a project, but it is so simple and cheap that anyone could do it. Further work is needed to establish the optimum height that will exclude Starlings.

A piece of 50mm pipe, an entrance being shaped and a finished entrance with scoring.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

A Swift weather vane from Andy Jarrett

Those who visited our stand at Birdfair 2016 will have noticed the new Swifts Local Network logo. This was derived from a picture of a new, commercially available, Swift weather vane made by Andy Jarrett

The Swifts Local Network logo

Click picture to enlarge. Photo Richard Porter

Ever since I installed a Swift weather vane on my house in 2012 (see story), people have got in touch to ask where they can get one. 

Mine is a one off, commissioned by a friend as a birthday present, so, until now, I could not help them.

We are happy to feature here this rather nice picture of Andy's new weather vane on Richard Porter's house in Cley.

Andy Jarrett's contact details are:
Phone: 01508 53 8050