Swift Awareness Week off to a flying start
For Swift Awareness Week 2018, Hackney Council is delighted to announce a set of proposals designed help halt and reverse the decline of swifts in Hackney due to habitat loss.
Across the UK swifts have declined by 51% between 1995 and 2015, which makes them an ‘amber listed species’. Sadly, they are now officially classified as endangered in the UK.
Swifts, which migrate between the UK and Africa, are an exciting summer visitor to Hackney’s skies from May to August. They are unique among birds in that they rely almost 100% on the built environment for nesting space. As older buildings are renovated and newer buildings are totally sealed, available nesting sites for swifts to raise their young have fallen dramatically. This is particularly problematic because swifts, which mate for life, are extremely loyal to their nesting site, and may stun or even kill themselves trying to re-enter if it is blocked.
In Hackney, the decline in swifts and loss of nesting sites mirrors that in other large cities, where renovation works on older properties, in particular, have inevitably impacted upon the availability of nesting sites for swifts. This has been compounded by the fact that new build properties often do not include swift nesting boxes or bricks.
In an attempt to combat and reverse the worrying decline of swifts in the borough, Hackney Council will now take action in three key areas - through the planning process; through ensuring that permanent swift nests are built into all suitable new council housing developments; and through identifying and creating a register of existing council-owned housing and buildings where ‘swift boxes’ could be fitted retrospectively.
In planning the Council will ensure, through the new Local Plan*, that all suitable developments build-in permanent nesting sites, with schemes involving buildings with an eaves height of seven metres and above required to provide nesting boxes for swifts, sparrows, starlings and/or bats.
In the new build council housing supply programme, the Council will provide swift nesting opportunities in all suitably-designed buildings with an eaves height of seven metres and above. These will take the form of unobtrusive ‘swift bricks’ set flush into the external walls.
In existing council housing and buildings the Council will begin working with local bird conservation group Hackney Swifts to conduct a stock assessment of Hackney’s existing council-owned buildings and council housing in order to identify suitable sites for swifts and other endangered birds that enhance biodiversity in our borough.
I’m delighted that Hackney now has a series of concrete proposals for addressing swift habitat loss in the built environment. Across planning, housing supply, and our existing buildings we’ll be seeking to halt and reverse the decline of these iconic birds. The 2016 State of Nature report noted that the UK is one of the ‘most nature-depleted countries in the world’. I’m proud that Hackney’s approach to total sustainability is seeking to address this worrying fact where we can in our borough. We owe that to our children and the wildlife we share our world with.
Hamish Burnett, of Hackney Swifts said: "These proposals from Hackney Council are fantastic, with straightforward actions to halt declines in brilliant urban species which bring us so much joy. There should be no conflict between creating modern buildings and renovating old buildings whilst retaining amazing urban species like swifts, bats and sparrows, these proposals show this in action. We are looking forward to working with Hackney Council and residents to identify key sites where swifts boxes can be retrofitted to create vibrant new swift colonies."
If householders who currently fall outside the Hackney’s swift conservation proposals would like to find out more about how they can provide nesting sites for swifts, you can find out more through the RSPB, here.
* Due for ratification following public consultation and Examination in Public in 2019.