Swifts on the brink: Chester conservationists call for public help

Photo taken by Drakuliren

The swift – a bird which can fly non-stop for four years; eats, sleeps and mates without landing, and has shared our towns and cities since Roman times – is in rapid decline and needs public help to survive.

Conservationists in Chester are now calling on members of the public to help survey the species and create new nest sites for this much loved species.

Experts are offering tips on how to lend a helping hand to this British favourite by protecting nest sites and putting up nest boxes.

Meanwhile the first major swift survey in the Chester area for 20 years is underway.

The swift is one of the UK’s most iconic species. It migrates from Africa up through Europe every spring to nest in the UK over summer.

Yet after the long journey, the much loved birds are arriving in the UK to find a lack of nesting sites.

Historically swifts nested in holes in trees and rocky crevices. However since Roman times they have made use of the eaves and holes of buildings, so much so they now rarely nest anywhere else. But improvements to buildings in the UK in recent decades have led to a shortage of homes for swifts.

The problem is a major threat to the future of the one of nature’s greatest fliers. There are thought to be only around half as many swifts in the UK as there were 20 years ago.

The species, which has always been one of the most visible natural sights of the British summer, is now amber-listed on the list of Birds of Conservation Concern.

Conservationists from Chester Zoo’s Wildlife Connections campaign and the Chester RSPB Group have teamed up with Chester and Cheshire West Council (CWAC), RECORD, Cheshire Wildlife Trust, the Cheshire biological records centre and local experts in a bid to help the bird.

Manon Keir, Wildlife Connections project officer at Chester Zoo, said:

“The great British summer would not be the same without the sight and sounds of swifts gracing our skies, but we mustn’t take this for granted. Conservation is critical but it is certainly not too late.

“Every one of us can make a difference. There is a simple video guide on the Chester Zoo website demonstrating how to make a swift nest box for your garden. And the RSPB Chester Group are recruiting volunteers for the 2017 swift survey. It’s time to act for wildlife together.”

The swift is plain brown bird with a distinctive crescent shape, long wings and a short forked tail, perfectly designed for their long journeys.

They move in groups and are one of nature’s most impressive fliers, staying airborne from fledging until they breed for the first time four years later. They can fly more than 500 miles per day during the nesting season as they travel north to the UK.

Roger Nutter from RSPB Chester Group, said:

“In summer 2016, more than 200 records were submitted in the first phase of the Chester Swift Survey. We hope that even more people will take part in 2017. Volunteers who would like to help with the survey should contact Chester RSPB Group through www.rspb.org.uk/groups/chester.”