Local Swift Projects

We mostly advise home-owners on making and installing their own boxes and where best to locate them around their property. However we were on BBC Springwatch and Autumnwatch 2015 and have been involved in several larger projects.

Sea Mills Station House Martin Project 2024

This project has nothing to do with swifts but another summer migrant that is dear to my heart, the House Martin.

Photos courtesy of Adrain Galley (left and right) and Richard Booth (centre)

The Old Station Building at Sea Mills not far from me is home to a colony of House Martins. These beautiful, joyous birds are summer migrants from Africa that return to the UK each summer to breed. The Old Station building has been their home for many years, probably since it was first built back in 1865. Alas like so many other summer migrants their numbers have crashed in recent years. They’ve fallen so much that in 2022 the British Trust for Ornithology made them a Red listed species of concern.

Sadly the number of House Martins nesting on the building had plummeted from over 20 pairs in 2018 to only 2 pairs last year. George Ashwell another keen local birdwatcher and I noticed this decline and wanting to help, we set up the Sea Mills Station House Martin Project.

There are many reasons why their numbers have fallen so fast, but one is the loss of their old mud nests. Being made of mud they only last a short while, maybe a year or two before they naturally fall down or unfortunately are deliberately knocked down by uncaring individuals. Building new nests each year adversely affects the number of broods they can successfully raise, so the easiest way to help them is to put up artificial nest cups. Having gained permission from the landlords we needed to find someone to make them. The eaves of the Old Station Building are slightly angled so specially made nest cups were required. I made 5 home-made nest cups and another 11 have been ordered from Paul Stevens, a specialist House Martin nest cup maker. With help from Nikki Jones (Friends of Sea Mills Meadows) and Diana Bunniss (Bristol Ornithological Club) the money to buy them was kindly donated to us from the BOC 50th Anniversary Fund.

In total 16 nest cups will be fitted on the Old Station Building. Fingers crossed when the birds return this May they’ll like what they find and move straight into their des-res abodes.

Kelston Swift Tile Project 2020-22

Just before the first lockdown in 2020 we were invited to visit a beautiful house in Kelston, near Bath. Mandy and Edward absolutely love swifts and they wanted to discuss a new project they had in mind. They had plans to refurbish their dilapidated old outbuilding and wondered about the possibility of incorporating swift tiles into the roof. We discussed several options and I drew up some rough sketches of what I thought would work. Plans were put on hold due to the pandemic, so in 2021 they installed two John Stimpson boxes to the north end of the gable (kindly donated by the Bath Swifts Group) to try to attract swifts to the building.

Once work resumed the major hurdle was trying to find someone who could make bespoke swift tiles. Eventually they found Keyer Heritage Roof Tiles who specialise in making bespoke roofing products for conservation projects. They made ‘cowls’ which they then ‘fired’ onto twelve of the original terracotta roof tiles to provide access for swifts into the roof space behind. Six tiles were planned for the west facing roof and six for the east thus avoiding the mid-day sun. They were positioned five rows down from the ridge tiles, roughly 40 feet above ground level.

Unfortunately during installation two of these tiles were fitted too closely to the rafters thus making swift access impossible, so not everything went according to plan! The next phase involved building a box to fit behind each tile. These were designed and installed by our friend Lester Hartmann of Peak Boxes with help from his wife Linden and Edward. The ingenious L-shape box with a tunnel lined up perfectly with the outside hole.

The new tile boxes were finished in May 2022 with attraction calls being played both morning and evening. Now it’s all up to the swifts. Luckily they already have one pair nesting in one in their John Stimpson boxes, so prospectors don’t have far to look for brand new accommodation. Mandy and Edward are happy to share what they’ve learnt from their inspirational project, so if you contact us we’ll forward your email on. Fingers crossed it won’t be long before they get their first swift tile pair.

Abbots Leigh Church Project 2022

In March 2022 we visited Holy Trinity Church in Abbots Leigh which is only a couple of miles south from us (as a swift flies!). We met Sarah, David and Nick to advise them about putting swift boxes up behind the louvres in the church bell tower. We discussed various options and came up with a plan.

LH photo shows me outside church. Middle photo – North side of the tower. RH photo shows Sarah, Nick Dave and me

The north side of the tower looked favourite for a stack of six boxes. Luckily it turns out that Dave is a skilled carpenter. Not only did he build a super stack of 6 boxes but he made them in flat-pack style. This made the task of carrying them up the narrow spiral staircase much easier.

LH photo shows Dave and Nick. Middle – Dave removing mesh. RH photo shows Dave reassembling the flat-pack sections.

Once we had all the bits in place it only took us a couple of hours putting it all back together. Needless to say because of Dave’s expertise it all fitted together beautifully. To help keep their costs down we provided a sound system with swift calls and it was attached it to a plug timer, ready to play when the swifts return. This could be the beginning of a brand new swift colony. The good news is there is plenty of room to add many more boxes in the future. Fingers crossed they get some interest this summer.

LH photo – Dave adding the floors. Middle photo -The view inside a box. RH photo shows Individual hinged doors to each box (and me!)

Bishops Palace Wells 2021-22

In March 2021 we were invited to the Bishop’s Palace in Wells by James Cross the Head Gardener. He wants to attract swifts to the Palace. His long term ambition is to turn it into a swift mega-colony. We’ve never been there before and were amazed just how beautiful it was. We spent a lovely morning surveying the grounds with James. With so many super locations to fit boxes the potential there is massive. My personal favourite is the bell tower. We know swifts are nesting nearby so hopefully we can entice one or two over. This is planned to be done over three phases.

Phase 1. Two double eaves boxes and a sound system to be installed either side of the drainpipe. This was completed in April 2021. See LH photo 1. James said swifts did show an interest in these boxes but he didn’t think any have taken up residence.

Phase 2. A bespoke multi-compartment boxes to be fitted into the top of the bell tower. He hopes this will be done sometime during 2022. See middle photos 2 & 3.

Phase 3. Looking farther ahead if all goes to plan. Sometime during 2023/24 more boxes to be fitted along the length of the Eastern perimeter wall. See RH photo 4.

More details will follow.

Chew Valley Swift Project 2020-1

Despite all the restrictions in 2020 we’ve been very busy on the swift front. Most of our work has been replying to emails. However in December we spent a very productive day surveying properties in a ‘socially distanced’ manner in the Chew Valley, which is not too far from us. Anne-Marie Morris from Chew Magna has done a fantastic job in starting up this new swift project and so far 24 people have signed up to have swift boxes. Hopefully by the time the swifts arrive most will have been fitted. The majority of the properties are in Chew Magna, however there are also some in Chew Stoke and a few dotted further afield. All the boxes will be made by Lester Hartmann at Peak Boxes, who has kindly offered a discount and donated a free box to the project.

It was really lovely to meet all these new people and by sheer good fortune one of them happened to be Richard Brock. He’s a retired BBC producer/cameraman who worked with David Attenborough on Life on Earth and The Living Planet. He filmed us as we surveyed some of the houses. He plans to film more as the project develops. We’re really hoping that at least one of the new boxes will be occupied next summer so he can round off this story. A few years ago he produced the Brock initiative which you can see via this link. It’s all about the plight of wildlife across the world and his series is called Winners & Losers. We’re hoping that in time the swifts in the Chew Valley will become one of the Winners.

Swifts Local Network conference 2019

Bristol Swifts hosted and help organise the Swifts Local Network conference at Bristol Zoo in November 2019. Over 100 SLN members of local swift groups from across the UK (and further afield) got together and listened to interesting talks and exchanged experiences relating to their work in swift conservation. Click on this link to see a list of the SLN groups and see if there is a group near to you.

Olveston Primary School Swift Project 2019

In June 2019 we received a lovely email from Thomas Carter, a primary school teacher. Tom teaches 9-10 year olds in Olveston, a small village about 10 miles north west of Bristol. He told us that they have swifts nesting under the tiles of the old school library and this gave him the idea to get the school children involved. One fine morning he took his class outside to watch the swifts and whilst they watched he asked them to write free-verse poetry about what they were seeing. We think the poems are brilliant and I’ve attached them in this file. We did a swift talk in the playground underneath where the swifts have made their homes, no more than 12 feet off the ground. It was great to watch the birds whizz just above the heads of the children, accompanied lots of oohs and aahs. 

Not only had they written beautiful poems but some of the children had started making nest boxes as well. A few weeks later their first handmade swift box (proudly shown painted red below) was put up along with one that we gave to them. More swift boxes were planned. He told us the children and parents were really excited about their new swift project and so was the local community too.

The children showing their swift poems and “I am a Swift” booklets we gave them.

By the end of the school year they had already built and installed another 5 new boxes and there are plans to build even more. The enthusiasm of the children has been quite remarkable and infectious. It appears that the whole community has been bitten by the swift bug and they have plans to do more. Practical hands-on conservation involving the young, now that’s what I call proper schooling. What a wonderful example for other schools to follow.

Update from Castle Combe July 2019

Last year we were asked if we could help protect the existing nest sites of a large colony of swifts that were nesting under the tiles of a very large farmhouse near Castle Combe as the building required re-roofing.

The owners are passionate about their swift colony and desperately wanted to protect all the existing nest sites if they could. So they decided to carry out the roofing maintenance in two phases. The first phase was on the West and North sides completed in April 2018. The second phase on the East and South sides started in September.

They were fortunate to employ a sympathetic builder, Terry Waldron. The team carrying out the roofing work were the Robinson family – Otis, Ellie and Ben. They had all the skills. The only thing missing was somebody to offer advice and that’s where we came in.

The 300-year-old house is roughly 70ft x 35ft. The roof tiles are made from natural handcrafted Cotswold stone about 30 x 20 inches.  They were uneven and provided little openings on each side, making them perfect for swift nests. The roof has wooden rafters about 15 inches apart. The tiles are mostly laid on a bed of lime mortar in between the rafters, except for the bottom 2 layers that are laid on a loose bed of gravel and stone. It is here that small natural cavities have formed over time and where over a dozen pairs of swifts have chosen to nest each year.

After much debate and discussion we decided that the best option was to leave the bottom 2 layers felt free. Each tile was identified so it could be replaced in exactly the same position. The emphasis was always to maintain the existing entrance hole. The majority of nests (10 in total) were immediately below the second tile, some barely 2 inches deep. So it was agreed that whilst the tiles were removed the nest chambers would be deepened slightly to create more headroom. Our aim was to create a nest chamber roughly 3-4 inches deep by 15 inches long by 6 inches wide with a gentle slope up to the entrance hole. A handful of soft hay was added to each nest. Creating each individual nest compartment took a lot of time and skill, something the Robinson family excelled in. By the end of the project over 80 nest compartments had been added to the West, North and East sides.

The wonderful news is the swifts have really taken to their new homes and are there in even greater numbers than ever before.

Castle Combe swift colony January 2018

We were asked if we could help protect the existing nest sites of a large colony of swifts that were nesting under the tiles of a very large farmhouse (near Castle Combe) as the building required re-roofing.

The 300-year-old house is roughly 70ft by 35ft and the main aspect is East to West. The tiles are made from natural Cotswold stone and range in sizes, the largest being about 30 x 20 inches.  The handcrafted tiles are rough and uneven and when laid are absolutely wonderful at providing little openings on each side, which makes them perfect for swifts.

The roof has wooden rafters about 15 inches apart. The tiles are mostly laid on a bed of lime mortar in between the rafters, except for the bottom 2 layers that are laid on a loose bed of gravel and stone. It is here that small natural cavities have formed over time and where over 20 pairs of swifts have chosen to nest each year. For details of this exciting project click here.

March 2018.

The fantastic news is that all the existing nests have been saved along with another 50 or so new ones. The LH photo is of me in the middle, the owner to my right and the roofer to my left. The RH photo below shows the the finished job. The second row of tiles has been raised slightly to allow access to well over 75 nesting compartments. As Eric would say to Ernie “you can hardly see the join”.

Swift box building workshop November 2017

We helped out at a ‘make your own swift box’ workshop in November 2017 organised by Matt Collis. The event was successful although very cold! Here are a few photos of work in progress…

.. and the finished boxes a few hours later!

Swifts Local Network conference 2016

Bristol Swifts played a key role in organising the Swifts Local Network conference at Bristol Zoo in November 2016. Swifts Local Network consists of individuals and small groups from across the UK who are actively involved in swift conservation in their own area. The main topics were Engaging Local Councils, Developments in the South West, Surveying Swifts, Swift Box Design and Building Local Interest through Social Media. Also discussed was the new Oxford Swift City project and the RSPB Swift Survey. Several SLN members will be trialling the Manthorpe Swift Nest Brick. Over 60 attended and shared views on what can be done to help swifts in the UK.

SLN meeting

Bristol Swift Conservation Group 2015

Bristol Swifts was part of the Bristol Swift Conservation Group which consisted of organisations, groups and individuals who wanted to implement three key aims which were:

1. To identify and protect the location of swift nest sites within Bristol
2. To increase the number of opportunities for nesting swifts in Bristol
3. To raise awareness of swift conservation utilising latest research and best practice guidelines

Members included Avon Wildlife Trust, Bristol Naturalists’ Society, RSPB, Bristol Zoo, Bristol City Council, Bristol Swifts and local residents.

Bristol Swift Project seminar 2015

A well-attended seminar was organised by the Bristol Swift Project (which includes RSPB, Bristol Naturalists’ Society, Bristol Zoological Society, Avon Wildlife Trust, BCC and Bristol Swifts) for developers, planners, architects and ecologists on Friday 13th November 2015. The presentations were interesting, informative and well received by excellent speakers. For details see Bristol Swift Project Seminar.

A few attendees | Swift Conservation slide | Mark and Kerry McCarthy

A few attendees | Swift Conservation slide | Mark and Kerry McCarthy

Bristol Swifts on BBC Springwatch & Autumnwatch 2015

BBC Springwatch showed Live footage from our swift colony during several episodes in May and June 2015. Also Live video was streamed onto a giant screen at Millennium Square in Bristol and shown Live via the BBC Red Button and on the Springwatch website. An update of the swift story  was shown on Autumnwatch on 3rd November 2015 http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0371xqd which resulted in many emails asking for advice on putting up swift boxes. See our photos and details on Our Swifts on BBC Autumnwatch page.

Launch Bristol Swift Project 2015

The ‘Bristol Swift Project’ was launched by ‘Swift Champion’ Kerry McCarthy MP on March 7th 2015 at Bristol Naturalists’ Society (BNS) Celebration of Nature, as part of Bristol’s European Green Capital. Bristol Swifts shared a table with RSPB showing examples of swift boxes and swift videos. Bristol Swifts are working closely with RSPB, BNS and other interested organisations on the ‘Bristol Swift Project’ to try to make Bristol a swift-friendly city. Here is a link to the Bristol 2015 Small Grants Fund application awarded to Bristol Naturalists Society.

Bristol MP ‘Swift Champion’ visit 2014

In the summer of 2014 Kerry McCarthy, MP for Bristol East, RSPB ‘Swift Champion’ attended a meeting at our house as part of a joint initiative with several leading conservation groups (including the RSPB), to lend political support to the protection of the swift.

RSPB South West organised a meeting  and representatives from RSPB, BNS, Avon Wildlife, Bristol Zoo and Bristol City Council attended. This gave everyone the opportunity to see swifts and chicks via our live nest box cameras and discuss what could be done to encourage swift conservation in Bristol, especially as Bristol had been awarded European Green Capital for 2015. It was a positive meeting.


From left to right –
Richard Bland – Bristol Naturalist Society/Ornithological Society, Rose Dickinson – RSPB Parliamentary Officer, Kerry McCarthy MP, Paul Buckley – RSPB, Jane Glanville – Bristol Swifts, Robin Maynard – Avon Wildlife Trust, Stephen Fitt – RSPB, Becky Coffin – Bristol City Council, Mark Glanville – Bristol Swifts, Nigel Simpson – Bristol Zoo

Freshford & Limpley Stoke – Swift Box project 2013

In June 2013 FLEWG (Freshford and Limpley Environmental Working Group) asked for practical advice on the installation of swift nest boxes around both villages. Their concern was that they only knew of one swift colony in the area, which was located under the roof tiles of an old building which was up ‘For Sale’. They were worried that the new owners may renovate the property and inadvertently disturb the only swift colony in the process. They hoped to work with the new owners in protecting the colony in the long term, but as a precaution decided to install nest boxes in the vicinity just incase the existing swifts needed to re-locate. They also wanted to increase the colony size in general and by installing these boxes to make them less dependent on this one building. After gaining funding they installed 15 nest boxes each with their own CD sound systems on houses and the school.

In early March 2014 we visited each nest box site and saw that they were located in good positions, although a couple had nearby hazards (like wires) which we thought would not deter swifts. We suggested adding a roughened landing strip to the boxes, some start-up nesting materials and advised the best times to play the Swift Call CD.


Julie (FLEWG), Jane & Mark. Two new nest boxes.

A couple of weeks later were invited to a ‘Swift Supper’ to give a short talk about swifts to the FLEWG group that had installed the new swift boxes and other interested local residents, including a conservation group from Bradford on Avon. It was well received and Mark was given the title “Mr Swift Hotel”, due to the number of swift boxes on our house!


Swift Supper & Talk

In July 2014 we visited again and were informed that swifts had been seen prospecting near several of the new boxes, although none had actually taken up residence. Although none have nested, this activity looks very promising for the future. We now understand there are 29 nest boxes in the area, so fingers crossed there will be new residents soon.

Bristol Water – Chew Valley & Blagdon Lake Swift Boxes 2008-9

In the autumn of 2008 we asked Bristol Water to fund a project to install swift nest boxes around water reservoirs near to where large numbers of swifts could be seen feeding. Three locations were chosen – two were at Chew Valley Lake and one at Blagdon Lake. In the spring of 2009 a total of 20 boxes were installed – 10 and 4 boxes were installed on two buildings around Chew Valley and 6 on an old valve house at Blagdon Lake.

At one of the sites at Chew Valley a swift call CD system was also installed to be played each season. Although swifts been seen prospecting near all three sites, unfortunately due to a change in recording methods (our contact left!) we don’t know if any have been occupied.



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