East London swifts given vital support


Hackney Swifts – an initiative established by volunteers in order to preserve Common Swift nesting sites – have been given a boost by the Benyon Estate. 

After the group approached the estate – which owns some 400 properties in the De Beauvoir Town in the London Borough of Hackney – they were met with a positive response. Benyon Estate confirmed its will make a concerted effort to ensure all its refurbishments take nesting swifts into account, such as avoiding major building work as far as possible during their nesting period from May to July, and installing nest boxes, including eight on the estate's refurbishment project at 98 De Beauvoir Road. 

Swift boxes are being installed on Benyon Estate properties (Benyon Estate / Hackney Swifts).

"De Beauvoir Town is a particularly good area for swifts mainly because it's a designated Conservation Area and there are building restrictions in place meaning nesting swifts are less likely to be disturbed here by modern renovations," explained Mike Priaulx, a member of Hackney Swifts. "I realised how little protection there is for swifts and the detrimental impact modern building materials used in refurbishments were having on their nesting sites."

Members of Hackney Swifts made it their mission to ensure planning applications fulfil building conditions to protect nesting swifts, recognising that there had been many "missed opportunities" in recent developments. 

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Mike and other volunteers' tenacity paid off and in June 2018, the council announced a set of proposals designed to halt and reverse the decline of swifts in the borough due to habitat loss. The group's rallying cry was heard throughout the community, and now, thanks to residents, publicans and church wardens alike, there are now more than 50 swift boxes in the vicinity, including one at The Scolt Head pub and 10 at St Peter's Church.

Mike said: "After speaking with Edward Benyon, the estate was very proactive in supporting us. They had no obligation to do anything beyond the legal requirement to protect active nests, but their support has made a huge difference.

"We knew swift boxes were needed because roosts were being destroyed, and that the best way to go about it was through the planning process, as well as raising awareness throughout the community, ensuring that building renovations are done sensitively and scaffolding isn’t put up near swift roosts.

"I'm much more aware of swifts in the sky over Hackney now and listen out for their distinctive screeching sound."

Swift nest boxes can cost as little as £20, but with no grant funding currently available, group members rely on the generosity of spirit of developers and building owners.