Hopes Sudbury swift box project will inspire more public buildings to follow suit

Swift boxes being installed in St Peter's in Sudbury

Swift boxes being installed in St Peter's in Sudbury - Credit: Archant

Nesting boxes for swifts have been installed in a town centre church in Sudbury, west Suffolk in the hope it will spur more public buildings to follow suit.

Swift boxes being installed in St Peter's in Sudbury

Swift boxes being installed in St Peter's in Sudbury - Credit: Archant

Adrian Walters, who is a ranger on Sudbury’s Common Lands, personally paid for four boxes and an electronic call system, which were placed in St Peter’s church earlier this month.

The church has installed the boxes because nesting sites for swifts are disappearing. The birds have traditionally used the gaps and holes under roof tiles and in gable ends of older buildings but as a growing number of these buildings have been restored, so nest sites have been harder to find.

Swift numbers are in steep decline - according to the Swift Conservation group UK numbers have halved in the past 20 years.

Church towers have been identified as good places to provide new nesting sites for swifts because of their height and louvred windows, which provide access for the birds.

Mr Walters and St Peter’s worked with the Churches Conservation Trust, nest box maker John Stimpson, and Suffolk Wildlife Trust swift advisor Edward Jackson to install the boxes. Recordings of swifts’ calls have been played from the tower to attract the birds and up to 11 swifts have already been seen circling the building, investigating the site.

Swifts typically stay in the UK until the end of August before migrating to their African homelands for the winter. It is hoped they will return to Sudbury next summer and begin nesting in the boxes.

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Swifts around St Peter's in Sudbury

Swifts around St Peter's in Sudbury - Credit: Archant

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If the boxes are adopted, the Friends of St Peter’s intends to install miniature CCTV cameras in future years, so that the development of chicks may be viewed from inside the church.

Mr Walters said: “As I go about my duties on the riverside and around town I see parties of swifts actively looking for nesting sites. As we insulate and seal our houses more and more swifts continue to lose the nesting places they need, which is a considerable part of the story of their precipitous decline over the past twenty five years.

“This, however, is not ‘job done’. I hope that this is just the beginning of a growing awareness of how easy it is to help these incredible birds that will spend three years in the air when they fledge before touching down again to breed. The birds that are now being attracted to St Peter’s church tower by the recorded calls may well occupy the four boxes when they arrive back from Africa next spring. Right now they are checking these out.

“We have lots of grazed riverside habitat generating the insects that swifts need to sustain themselves and their broods - now all we need is more boxes to accommodate them. Let’s hope for interest from other sources in putting up boxes for these supreme aerial masters.”

Peter Gray, vice chair of the Friends of St Peter’s, who cares for the building added: “In stating our aim that St Peter’s should be open to and used by all sectors of the community, we did not envisage it extending to wildlife. But given the plight of these impressive birds, it is our pleasure to offer them refuge.

“We hope this example will inspire swift nesting boxes to be installed in other churches and public buildings, as well as private houses.”

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