Yorkshire Housing have been doing their bit to help with the survival of the Swift, an enigmatic bird that spends most of its life in the air- Swifts feed, drink, bath and even sleep on the wing, only landing to nest. The species has always relied on openings in older buildings to find a place to make their nest for when they want to raise their young, often returning to the same site year on year, making Yorkshire Housing’s older properties ideal for nesting.
However, with many of these building’s roof spaces being repaired or replaced, the Swift faces something of a crisis. According to the RSPB, swifts have suffered a population decline of 38 per cent over the past 25 years, a situation which puts them on the amber list of conservation concern.
So Yorkshire Housing decided to work with local group Helmsley Swifts. Whenever Yorkshire Housing have repaired and changed roof spaces, meaning the nest site access blocked, local group Helmsley Swifts have then gone in to fit a Swift-friendly “bird box.”
Over the past few months a number of new nest boxes have been put up on Yorkshire Housing properties in Helmsley to encourage Swifts to make a home there ahead of their breeding season. These were mainly done of Yorkshire Housing properties at Elmslac Road and Elmslac Close in Helmsley. Charlie Heap of the National Centre for Birds of Prey, Helmsley has helped put up the boxes.
In addition to the new roof Yorkshire Housing also upgraded the levels of insulation in the roof spaces, all works were carried out in conjunction with local planning authorities North Yorkshire Moors Planning, as the area was protected under article 4 of the Conservation Act.
Glen Cranfield, investment project surveyor at Yorkshire Housing, said: “When we became aware that the upgrading of our roof spaces was taking away the nesting space for the Swifts, Yorkshire Housing got in touch with local group Helmsley Swifts. We agreed on a plan of them installing bird boxes in the same location to prevent this problem.”
Jonathan Pomroy from Helmsley Swifts and author of On Crescent Wings, said: “Many nests in Helmsley are located under pan tiles in the loft space and consist of material such as feathers, bud cases and pieces of grass. So when Yorkshire Housing were repairing the roof space, that meant that they would lose their nesting space.”
“It is a species we are really concerned about and it would be sad if we lost this magnificent symbol of summer. Anything that people can do to make buildings more Swift friendly is welcome and we would like to thank Yorkshire Housing for assisting this very special bird.”
Ian Kibble from Helmsley Swifts, said: “Swift numbers are declining and have done over the past 20 years. By working with Yorkshire Housing we have been able to replace some of the nest sites all over Helmsley. Swifts have already been prospecting the bird boxes in Elmslac Road, so the future looks very encouraging.”
Helmsley Swifts are also working on an education project with the Helmsley Primary School. Interestingly the Swift does not sleep as we know sleep. Unless it is nesting it rises to great height and we think it shuts off one side of its brain at a time so it can keep flying around while it is semi-conscious. Swifts only land to nest and young Swifts do not breed until they are four-years-old, meaning they will have made three return journeys to Africa – where they spend the winter – without their feet touching the ground.
You can watch our short film about swifts on our YouTube channel.