Breeding Birds of Conservation Concern in Shropshire
Species Action Plan
- Fairly common summer visitor; fairly common but rapidly declining breeding species
- Shropshire: Red List
- National (BoCC4): Amber List
- Breeding population estimate from The Birds of Shropshire 2019: 1750 pairs (UK 59000 pairs RSPB)
- Declines found by BTO BBS 1995-2018: 58% in the UK, 58% in England, and 56% in the English West Midlands region
Distribution (geographic and habitat requirements)
From late April to September they can be seen anywhere, as they travel large distances to reach breeding colonies and to feed. However, from May until August (or even September) they breed in colonies and where in the past many houses in a street may each have had several nest sites, usually under eaves, it now tends to be only the occasional house that has the necessary nooks and crannies for the birds to access the roof space to breed. Taller buildings with a clear flight path are needed and although older houses are most frequently used, some older industrial buildings and churches do offer suitable accommodation for breeding Swifts. A good source of aerial plankton is needed to sustain the birds and their chicks, so the space over wildlife friendly gardens and river courses as well as arable fields can provide food for these birds.
The distribution map from the 2008-13 Atlas follows below.
There were 290 tetrads with confirmed breeding records in the 1985-90 Shropshire Bird Atlas, but only 139 in 2008-13, which is consistent with the accepted UK figure of 42% decline 1995 – 2013. The decline has accelerated recently (see above)
Monitoring (survey methods and frequency)
The breeding birds are the first to return and their numbers are later swelled by 2 waves of immature birds (first breeding is not until at least 2 years old).
It is important not to survey non-breeding birds, so close attention to low flying screaming parties is necessary as they can indicate the proximity of nest sites. Equally, lone birds can appear from nowhere to enter nest sites at high speed and there is a knack to training your eye. Surveying in the hour before sunset during June and July is usually most productive, although when chicks are being fed, anytime of day can bear results.
Annual surveying and checking known nest sites for continued use, as well as being observant for new sites, especially if boxes have been installed, is the best way to build a picture of the overall success or otherwise of a location’s Swift population.
Reasons for decline
Loss of nesting sites as old buildings are renovated (especially reroofed) or demolished is a real problem for Swifts and this is thought to be a major factor in their decline. Nesting birds are faithful not just to particular buildings but to specific nest sites and the pointing of nooks and crannies in stone and brick work which gave access to nest sites is a particular cause of nest site loss.
The dramatic reduction in flying insect abundance is a serious concern, although there is, as yet, little firm evidence to show that this is affecting Swift numbers. However climate change and flying insect phenology both here and on their migration route are adding to the pressures that these birds face.
Actions towards recovery
Raising awareness of Swifts with the general public across the whole county focussing initially on the major towns and villages.
Work through SOS, Shropshire Ornithology Facebook Group, Community Wildlife Groups, SWT branches, Caring for God’s Acre and other local organisations, to build a network of Swift advocates, Swift local groups (e.g. the Strettons Area Community Wildlife Group Swift project) and Swift local town champions, who are aware of Swift nest sites in their locality, to survey, monitor, look for opportunities to increase nest site provision and take action when known sites are under threat e.g. building renovation – either residential or commercial/industrial.
Also lobby, mainly by engaging with Shropshire Council’s planning process, for the inclusion of nest provision for all small cavity breeding species in new build and keeping abreast of the latest best practice guidance.
Encourage house owners, and the owners of other suitable buildings, to install nest bricks and boxes when extending or repairing their properties. Also encourage builders and roofers to be more aware of Swifts (and other building dependent species) when working.
Advise building contractors and house owners that where there are nesting birds it is illegal to disturb them during the breeding season which in the case of Swifts may start in the last week of April and could extend to the beginning of September.
Church towers offer a real opportunity to provide mitigation for sites lost in a town/village and to offer existing colonies the potential for growth, so establishing contacts with local churches and designing/installing boxes is important.
Collating nest site records for annual submission to Shropshire Council
Liaison with the national Swifts Local Network (SLN) and other individuals and organisations who are involved with Swift conservation.
Constraints to delivery of actions
At present, the local swift groups within the county are informal – often just one person so action to date has largely been awareness raising, nest site recording and encouraging property owners to take action themselves. This has been mainly by offering information, advice and support as any box installations need to be the responsibility of building owners (due to insurance, funding and installation issues).
Taking the Action Plan forward to the next level requires a new Champion who is willing to keep up to date with latest best practice for Swifts through the Swifts Local Network. The Champion will need to be able to recruit and co-ordinate a team of local champions and work out an effective system for the provision and installation of boxes in suitable locations. An equally important part of the Champion’s role is lobbying locally for the retention of existing nest sites and engaging with plans for local developments. Anyone interested in taking on this role should contact firstname.lastname@example.org
The new Champion will have support from the informal Shropshire Swift Group who will, for the foreseeable future, continue to collate and submit nest site records to Shropshire Council.
A. Starting in 2021
- Create appropriate survey and recording instructions and recruit surveyors
- Encourage the surveying of surveyors’ towns/villages
- Work towards a network of Swift local champions.
- Encourage awareness-raising activities that will then engage residents with the work being done for Swifts. g. Library displays, stalls at local events
- Encourage the provision of boxes when suitable buildings have access e.g. scaffolding erected
- Encourage and support the installation of boxes in suitable church towers
B. Future years
- Survey any additional site where “Actions towards recovery” are carried out
Relevant non-SOS projects
- RSPB Species Recovery Action Plan
- Swift Conservation
- Action for Swifts
- Swifts Local Network
Surveying techniques, installing bricks and boxes, roof repairs etc – https://swift-conservation.org/OurLeaflets.htm
Residential Bird Box Guidelines – http://actionforswifts.blogspot.com/p/rbbg.html
Swift Species Account in The Birds of Shropshire (2019)