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Swift nest boxes for the Biosphere

This week is Swift Awareness Week and the Biosphere has already featured on Radio Cymru’s Galwad Cynnar. This is thanks to the Dyfi Biosphere Swift Project, which is led by retired policeman Elfyn Pugh and photographer and conservationist Ben Porter.

“It all began in 2019, when Machynlleth Town Council declared a climate emergency, and residents came together to see what we could do about it,” says Elfyn. “By 2021, with some help from ecodyfi on behalf of the Dyfi Biosphere, we had our first 20 boxes.”

The boxes are important because we no longer have the veteran trees that we used to have, with their woodpecker holes which were occupied by swifts in the past. Modern buildings tend to present a smooth surface to the world – good for insulation and maintenance, but not so good for birds.

“Our Dyfi Swift Boxes are based on a standard design called the Zeist Model 30,” says Elfyn. “The boxes need to go quite high up, at least 4.5 metres, and on north and east facing walls ideally, so they don’t overheat in the midday and early afternoon sun. Swifts are faithful to an established nest site so once they have nested, a pair of swifts will return to the exact same box every year. So they need to be very long-lasting.”

By 2022 some 100 boxes had been installed, from Tywyn to Carno, and from Bryncrug to Aberystwyth. Funding for the project has come from the Garthgwynion Charities, Garth Holiday Park, the Machynlleth Rotary Club, the Margaret Owen Trust, Swift Conservation, and individuals.

Putting a nest box up of course is no guarantee that swifts will find it. “Perhaps a quarter of the boxes will be taken up by swifts and it might take several years before they are occupied, but you often get house sparrows and more rarely house martins instead,” Elfyn explains. “The point is that we are giving the swifts a helping hand, and people really respond to that.”

Modern technology has a lot to offer here. A gadget that plays the call of a male swift, installed in the boxes, will attract the females, and hopefully in turn bring in a real male as well. The swift mapper app, which is supported by the RSPB, allows the public to report sightings of the birds. And as well as nest boxes, there are ‘swift bricks’ or ‘universal bricks’, hollow with an entrance hole, that can be incorporated into newbuilds or renovated buildings. (see this petition).

Mapping the swifts is particularly important as it guides the installation of the boxes. This year they put up 17 swift boxes outside the Coop Supermarket in Machynlleth, with 32 separate nesting chambers, choosing that site because swifts were already nesting just over the road. Now they will be monitoring the boxes, which will be a long-term project, with opportunities for the public to get involved.

“We want the Machynlleth Co-op Swift Box Project to generate debate and conversation about swifts and the challenges they face in modern times,” says Elfyn.  “We need a national effort to find out where swifts are nesting, and then support those areas with more boxes, so it’s vital to engage the public.”

Working with schools is an exciting new venture for the project, which recently ran a session for the Eco Committee at Llanidloes High School in collaboration with the newly-formed Llanidloes Swift Project. The pupils assembled a dozen boxes, and these boxes are to be installed on the school premises as well as other properties in Llanidloes.

“They’re learning carpentry as well as swift ecology and that builds their confidence,” says Elfyn. “I told them: ‘You are the future managers of our planet. Swifts could become extinct in your lifetime. You can all make a difference, you can all be part of the solution'."

Main image: Bob Relph and Elfyn Pugh promoting the swifts project in Machynlleth last week. Swift: Robert Booth.


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