A Swift Recovery: Full story

Estates department installs 10 specialist bird boxes as part of conservation project to create habitat for Swifts.

Sarah & boxes 1

Take a walk to Nelson Mandela Park on a warm summer evening and look straight up in the sky, if you’re lucky you’ll see a group of Swifts swooping in on the breeze chasing after high-flying insects and screeching softly to each other – but will this sight still be seen in years to come?

Spending most of their time in the air, Swifts are a common migrant visitor to Leicester and arrive around April/May time to look for a suitable place to lay their eggs. Discreet and clean (they don’t poo everywhere!) they can be found nesting in existing cracks in buildings or high under low hanging roof eaves. Despite the abundance of human houses, their population has declined dramatically in the past 10 years, resulting in the RSPB to label them as an amber-listed species for conservation concern due to loss of nest sites.

Although our target of a 60% carbon reduction by 2020 is one of the big challenges we face, our impact on nature and wildlife is just as important when considering the location of the University in an urban environment. The fitting of new insulated windows provided the ideal opportunity for the Swift Box Project, which provides these birds with a safe location to nest using ten specially designed nest-boxes installed on the Astley Clarke Building.

The Environment Team devised the original idea but without the help and enthusiasm of the Development Team within Estates it would have not been possible. Sarah (Sustainable Projects Officer) explained, “this was a perfect example of what could be achieved with good communication and collaboration. We organised an Urban Biodiversity seminar by Edward Mayer from the Swift Conservation to talk to the Development Team and it showed that there was a genuine interest and desire to be involved. Matthew Flint (Building Surveyor/Architectural Technician) was in charge of the renovations to Astley Clarke and when he asked if there were any opportunities to be made from this the project took off.”

A lot of research has been undertaken to try and make the site ideal for nesting swifts and the Leicester City Council and Leicestershire and Rutland Ornithological Society (LROS) have also been involved in discussions.
The boxes overlook the Fielding Johnson lawn to give Swifts plenty of air space to fly into them and at certain non-disruptive times of the day/month an audio box will play recorded Swift calls to entice them in. The box material is made from woodcrete which is highly insulating and wooden cups have been handmade for birds to sit on inside the box that is supposed to increase chances of nesting. If it all goes well, there may even be the opportunity to view nesting adults and chicks live online via webcam.

It is of course, more than just about bird boxes and the new Centre for Medicine currently being built is to be the largest Passiv-Haus building in the UK. With a living wall, green and brown roof to also be installed, the University is demonstrating a real commitment to biodiversity and conservation.

Learn more about biodiversity projects or suggest some of your own by emailing Sarah Roberts on sr390@le.ac.uk for more information.

Other Swift projects:
University of Durham http://www.durhambiodiversity.org.uk/durhamswifts/
University College Cork http://www.ucc.ie/en/build/news/fullstory-468021-en.html
University of Oxford https://www.conted.ox.ac.uk/news/index.php?post=2014-07-04:115334:485

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