A new book to help communities save their swifts has been launched by BirdWatch Ireland and local authority Heritage Officers nationwide.
Swifts are an iconic summer visitor to Ireland, arriving in early May following a long migration from southern Africa. Slightly larger than a swallow they are a ‘site faithful’ bird, returning generation after generation to buildings in towns and villages throughout Ireland to nest and raise young. Like many of our wild species however, Swifts are increasingly threatened through loss of nest sites and have suffered an alarming 40% population decline in the past decade. Problems arise when buildings are renovated or torn down removing the Swifts nest sites and sometimes huge nesting colonies can be lost overnight.
The good news is that there are many practical steps that we can all take to make a difference, and the new guide ‘Saving Swifts’ produced by BirdWatch Ireland and local authority Heritage Officers is available to help. The guide, funded by the Department for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht as part of an initiative to encourage projects under the National Biodiversity Action Plan, contains all the information required for individuals, local groups, schools, businesses or government departments to play a role in helping this amazing and threatened species. The information is presented in a colourful and user-friendly format and includes details on Swift ecology; reasons for declines; suggested conservation measures; nest box plans, case studies and much more.
Swifts nest in buildings where small gaps allow access to the roof space or cavities in masonry. Their chosen nest sites are often in older buildings which are sometimes dilapidated or in need of renovation. Awareness about the presence and requirements of Swifts is essential to ensuring that their nest sites are protected as part of renovation works. This typically involves timing works to take place from Sept to May. Also, there are many opportunities to create new nesting sites as part of new development through installing nest boxes or nesting bricks.
Ricky Whelan, Project Officer with BirdWatch Ireland said: “The Saving Swifts guide will go a long way to support groups from around the country to help their Swifts at a local level, feeding into the wider Swift conservation effort nationally. Swift surveys are planned in Sligo, Wicklow and Meath this year, following on from surveys in Offaly, Laois, Tipperary and Westmeath over the past few years, so we are getting a much better handle on the scientific side of where swifts are, and what they need.”
Catherine Casey, Heritage Officer with Laois County Council said “It was wonderful to work with BirdWatch Ireland and Heritage Officers across the country on this guide to help communities look after their swifts, and we are also grateful to the many swift conservation groups around Ireland who helped with expertise and success stories for the book”.
Dearbhala Ledwidge, Kilkenny Heritage officer; Catherine Casey, Laois Heritage officer and Ricky Whelan, Birdwatch Ireland pictured at the launch of the new book “Saving Swifts” at Abbeyleix Library. The book is a joint publication of BirdWatch Ireland and the Local Authority Heritage Officer Network.
Picture: Alf Harvey