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‘A sense of purpose and joy’ - Aldeburgh couple on their amazing efforts to save the endangered swift

PUBLISHED: 06:30 20 November 2020 | UPDATED: 11:35 23 November 2020

Alan and Christine Collett who look after baby swifts  Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Alan and Christine Collett who look after baby swifts Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Charlotte Bond

The eyes of Alan and Christine Collett from Aldeburgh are almost always on the skies as they look to spot the bird they have dedicated the last three years of their lives to; the swift.

Alan and Christine Collett have put special nesting boxes up in and around Aldeburgh  Picture: CHARLOTTE BONDAlan and Christine Collett have put special nesting boxes up in and around Aldeburgh Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

“Like many people, for me an interest in birds started at an early age in life,” said Mr Collett.

“One flew into my bedroom one day and we kept it overnight and released it the next day.

“That stuck with me.”

It wasn’t until a few years ago that Mr Collett and his wife started their project Aldeburgh’s Amazing Swifts.

Alan and Christine Collett who look after baby swifts  Picture: CHARLOTTE BONDAlan and Christine Collett who look after baby swifts Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

“Back in 2017, my wife and I started to get involved in understanding the challenges these birds were facing and what we could do to help,” said Mr Collett.

“Swifts are red listed.

“The numbers have been falling significantly. We have lost half of the population in the last 30 years.

“They never land except to raise a family.

Alan and Christine Collett have been looking after swifts in Aldeburgh  Picture: CHARLOTTE BONDAlan and Christine Collett have been looking after swifts in Aldeburgh Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

“The chicks when they leave a nest site will not land again for another two or three years.

“The thing that makes these birds unique is their ability to stay in the air.

“They feed in the air, they sleep in the air, they mate in the air.”

The only reason the birds visit the UK is to nest and the loss of suitable nest sites makes that difficult.

Alan and Christine Collett rescue injured swifts and help release them Picture: CHARLOTTE BONDAlan and Christine Collett rescue injured swifts and help release them Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

However, Mr and Mrs Collett have been helping to educate people locally to help the birds prosper.

Up until this year they have been visiting local schools to give talks.

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They’ve also been helping to install special swift boxes around the area to help the birds find new spots to nest.

“The fact these birds migrate from Africa to the northern hemisphere means that we in the UK certainly need to make sure these nest sites are available,” said Mr Collett.

As well as helping to install 100 boxes in Aldeburgh and 50 in outlying villages, the couple also help to rescue birds and get them back to health.

“We’ve had them come this year from parts of Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex,” said Mr Collett.

“People just find them on the ground.

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“The chicks can’t fly until they are literally ready to fly to Africa.

“Because the parents can’t land, they cannot feed the chicks.

“Once they are on the ground either someone picks them up and rescues them or they die.

“So mounting a rescue service is important for their survival.”

When the birds arrive the couple weighs them to try and gauge their age.

“We had one come in this summer that was only a few weeks old,” said Mr Collett.

While older swifts may be able to be rested and released quickly, the younger birds need a lot more time and care.

Some of the birds will end up eating between 70 and 90 waxworms a day all of which have to be given to them by the couple for anything up to six weeks.

“By the time you have finished one feed you are pretty much ready to start the next one,” said Mr Collett.

While the days can be long for the pair the rearing aspect of their work only lasts around three months of the year.

This summer their first arrival came at the end of June and the final bird flew the nest at the start of September.

In total they reared 33 swifts this year.

“It’s a pretty hands on job,” said Mr Collett.

The couple have taken inspiration from other local swift rescuers including Judith Wakelam from Worlington, near Mildenhall who has been rescuing swifts for over 15 years.

But why do the couple dedicate so much time to helping the swifts?

“The motivation is the moment you put them in your hand and some of them are itching to go and others will sit in your hand up to 10 minutes,” said Mr Collett.

“When they go there is a sense of purpose and joy.”

So what should you do if you come across a swift in need or help?

“Put them in box, with some air holes and give us a ring,” said Mr Collett.

The Collett’s can be contacted through their website.

Do you have someone you would like to nominate as a community hero? Email us.


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