House-building for swifts and communities

One of the new swift nest boxes being laid as part of a new house. Photo: RSPB/Barratt Homes.
One of the new swift nest boxes being laid as part of a new house. Photo: RSPB/Barratt Homes.
With Common Swift numbers in decline, the RSPB and two building companies have created a new swift nest box in a brick format which can be easily fitted in any new home.

Every year Common Swift announces the arrival of the British summer as it completes a 6,000-mile migration to breed in Britain. However, with a falling population there are now less than 90,000 breeding pairs arriving in the country, down from almost 150,000 pairs just two decades ago. Part of this decline is being linked to a reduction in potential nesting sites.

Providing more nesting sites for swifts has been one of the aims of the partnership between RSPB and Barratt Homes, which launched in 2014 to look at how nature and wildlife could be incorporated into new communities. Working together, they commissioned manufacturing company Manthorpe to develop a new swift nest box design that could be easily installed during construction.

Michael Finn, group design and technical director at Barratt Developments, said: “The bricks are an industry first: they are fully drained, ventilated and unobtrusive, matching the colour of the bricks. They help nurture chicks by giving them room to stand when they hatch. Crucially, too, they are much cheaper than any other swift brick on the market, which will help their uptake. We actively want other developers to use the brick so we can all help build swift populations. It’s a great example of how we are working together with the RSPB and the wider industry to support nature.”

Details of how the innovative design of the swift nest box works. Image: RSPB/Barratt Homes.

Darren Moorcroft, RSPB head of species and habitats conservation, said: “The swift is an iconic species, its appearance announces the start of summer as they swoop and soar above our gardens. Sadly like many UK species the swift is in trouble, their numbers have dropped dramatically, putting them at risk of disappearing completely from the [country].

“We are working hard to reverse this decline. In previous centuries, builders would often create spaces for swifts, but these techniques have fallen out of practice with modern homes. Our partnership with Barratt Homes has allowed us to share ideas and look at how we can bring this practice back in a way that works for builders, home owners and the swifts.”

A specialist in designing and manufacturing of products for the building trade, Manthorpe was brought in specifically to develop a new type of swift nest box. Starting with ideas proposed by Action for Swifts, the UK company designed something that would be easy to install and unobtrusive as well as providing a safe space for swifts to nest.

Gareth Wright, sales director at Manthorpe Building Products Ltd, said: “We were delighted to be approached by Barratt Homes and [the] RSPB regarding the development of a potential new product which could be used by house builders to provide a home for Swifts. The product is already gaining a lot of interest and due to its ease of fitting and competitive price builders are able to incorporate this product into their new homes with no disruption to the build and no need to incorporate any design changes to existing house types.”

The first phase of the development, Oakfield Village, will see Barratt build around 500 homes, ranging in size from two-five bedrooms, and which are on sale now; of these, around 180 will feature the new swift boxes. Overall, Barratt will be building 2,450 new homes at Kingsbrook, together with providing land and financial contributions for 3 new schools, building new community facilities and creating a host of new jobs.

Dick Newell of Action for Swifts said: “If we are to compensate the loss of thousands of Swift nesting places every year due to insulation and roof repairs, we need to deploy thousands of nest boxes.  A product like this is a great step forward in making this happen."
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