First stage of Action for Swifts project shows new lodgings are needed in Bungay

Waveney Bird Club has unveiled a new project aimed at drawing people's attention to the plight of sw

Waveney Bird Club has unveiled a new project aimed at drawing people's attention to the plight of swifts. Photo: Alain Georgy - Credit: Archant

The first stage of a new scheme aimed at protecting swifts across Suffolk has been completed by volunteers in Bungay.

Swift numbers in the UK fell 30% between 1995 and 2011, largely due to increasing renovation of buil

Swift numbers in the UK fell 30% between 1995 and 2011, largely due to increasing renovation of buildings where they nest. Photo: Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Credit: Archant

Members of the public joined Waveney Bird Club (WBC) on Tuesday to survey the swift population in the town, revealing that an estimated 35 new nesting sites will be required next year.

The Action for Swifts project is the start of a long-term plan to increase awareness of what the birds need to survive.

After taking five routes around the town, the survey showed that there are around 100 pairs of adults, with 70-plus juvenile and newly-fledged birds.

WBC project officer Paddy Shaw said: 'This is a really good time to take a count. Nesting is over, and the adults and young birds are all aerial, feeding up before their departure at the start of August.

'Swifts do not breed until they are around three to four years old, but the young birds will migrate with the adults, around 6,000 miles into southern Africa. They are genetically programmed to return here next May, and the youngsters will be looking for new homes – probably not too far from mum and dad.'

Mr Shaw said young birds are often called 'bangers', as they fly close under eaves checking out potential sites to set up home in the future. Once found, they will continue to use that site until old enough to breed.

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'Counting swifts is not easy – they are the fastest bird in level flight, and at this time of year are in large groups,' he said.

WBC chairman Steve Piotrowski took in the survey results at a temporary 'Swift HQ' at The Green Dragon pub in Broad Street.

A total of 314 birds were collated by the five survey groups, with a percentage being subtracted for possible duplication of results.

The outcome means that – allowing for some migration mortality – around 70 youngsters with no homes to go to will return to the town next May, looking for lodgings.

'Having set our baseline data and established a basic requirement, we can now plan the next steps,' Mr Shaw said.

'From the statistics, it is clear the birds prefer the older buildings in and around the town centre to the newer developments further out. As colonial nesters, we should concentrate on increasing the lodging possibilities outwards from existing sites, rather than try and establish new zones. Linking up areas where we already know swifts are nesting is our best chance of success.

'Many countries – particularly in eastern and southern Europe – are encouraging swifts and are emphasising the benefits to public health. An adult swift with young can collect up to 100,000 flying insects a day, and many of these are mosquitoes. Thus swifts are being used to reduce the risk of the spread of malaria, dengue fever and other blood-borne diseases.'

Swift numbers in the UK dropped by 30pc between 1995 and 2011, thought to be a result of construction and renovation techniques which deprive them of suitable nesting sites.

'Although it's easy to be complacent in an area like ours, nationally the scene is very bleak. We are just one of a number of initiatives launched both locally and nationally to reverse this decline,' Mr Shaw added.

Other such schemes are under way through Save Our Suffolk Swifts and Swift Conservation UK, with local activities in Harleston, Halesworth and Aldeburgh.

The next stage is to host a public information evening, and to cost the production of specialised swift boxes, to be placed in suitable locations around the town prior to the birds' return.

The club also plans to conduct further walks in Beccles, Lowestoft and the rest of the Waveney Valley.

Mr Piotrowski said: 'This is a community project and we want to draw people's attention to the plight of swifts.

'They are steadily dying out and it's mainly because of building regulations which deny them a place to nest.'

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