Public appeal to help swifts and hirundines


Gardeners are being encouraged to install nestboxes and create habitats that boost insect numbers to help Swallows, Common Swifts and House Martins as part of a new campaign.

Wild About High Fliers is a joint initiative by The Wildlife Trusts and the Royal Horticultural Society's (RHS) Wild About Gardens campaign that aims to boost numbers of these charismatic migratory birds.

Common Swift and House Martin were recently added to the UK Red List, having suffered serious declines in recent decades. It is estimated that almost 60% of UK swifts have disappeared over the last 25 years.

Huge declines of insects, habitat loss, and the impacts of climate change – with extreme weather affecting breeding cycles and migration – are the main challenges affecting migratory birds.

Common Swift is in real trouble in Britain, with insect populations declining and fewer places to nest (Matthew Barfield).

A new campaign guide provides gardeners with tips on how they can help swallows, swifts, and martins.

The suggestions include creating a 'bog garden' with plants like Marsh-bedstraw and Purple Loosestrife. Bog gardens provide valuable habitat for frogs, dragonflies, and a wealth of insects, as well as materials that Swallows and House Martins can use to build nests. Similarly, letting a patch of grass grow long, providing vital habitat and food for insects and other wildlife, will also benefit these species.

Adding a swift box to an existing house or including a swift brick in any kind of new build will also give this imperilled species somewhere to nest. Ideally, swift boxes face north/north-east to help regulate the internal temperature and are at least 5 m above ground.

Dr Rob Stoneman, Director of Landscape Recovery at The Wildlife Trusts, said: "Swifts, Swallows and martins are some of our most iconic breeding birds. Watching and hearing these creatures soar through the sky is an uplifting spectacle, and an experience that leaves you totally in awe of nature. Sadly, these birds – like much of our wildlife – have suffered severe declines in recent decades due to habitat loss and plummeting insect numbers, which are affected by pollution, the impacts of development, and climate change.

"With a bit of diversity and structure, a garden can become a haven for all kinds of wildlife, providing nesting sites, shelter and food. It's all about being creative, ditching all chemicals, and letting things go a bit wild. If we can encourage enough gardeners to give a bit of their garden over to wildlife, it could work wonders for the natural world, which means more insects for swallows and more enjoyment of wildlife for people."

Helen Bostock, Senior Wildlife Specialist at the RHS, added: "Anyone lucky enough to share their homes with nesting Swallows, swifts or House Martins will understand how magical these birds are - but also how vulnerable, with the numbers of those returning each summer dropping year on year. The UK's 30 million gardeners have an important part to play in helping revive their populations – from tailoring planting choices to include insect favourites and embracing bare patches for the benefit of nest building, people can make small scale changes that will reap big rewards. How sad it would be if future generations never know the joy of seeing these wonderful birds in our gardens and green spaces."

For more information on the campaign, and to download the guide, visit: wildaboutgardens.org.uk