UK Swift Awareness Week is held to raise people’s understanding of these unique birds, and in early July Lambeth Council officers took part by helping install new swift boxes at Lambeth Cemetery in Blackshaw Road, Tooting.
Swifts spend most of their lives soaring high in the sky, only landing to nest and rear their young. They are easy to spot as they look like an arrow whirling through the sky, and often fly in groups. Swifts feed on small flying insects, catching them in flight as they swoop low over lakes, meadows and buildings.
They are a migratory species, spending each winter in Africa but travelling back to Britain every year in April and May. Originally, they would have nested in trees or cliffs but now prefer the roofs or eaves of old buildings including schools, churches and even cemetery chapels or crematoria.
However, some of these nesting sites are being covered up and there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of insects found across the country, unfortunately meaning that UK swift populations are in decline.
Councillor Rezina Chowdhury, Cabinet Member for Sustainable Lambeth and Clean Air, who is overseeing the delivery of the borough’s Climate Action Plan, has said “We’re in the middle of a national biodiversity and climate change emergency, so the more we can do to arrest this, such as by planting more trees, more wildflowers and providing homes for our wild birds, all helps make a lasting difference.”
She has called people to action following Swift Awareness Week, and said: “All of us living and working in Lambeth have a responsibility to do what we can to prevent the loss of wildlife, as it means so much to every one of us, adding colour and variety to our lives.
“We all want to see Lambeth’s swifts continue to return each year to the borough, so the installation of swift boxes in Lambeth Cemetery is part of that commitment, and I encourage everybody to try and do the same in the homes and places where they live and work.”
Lambeth is doing its bit to ensure that swifts, and many other wild birds, are given every opportunity to continue to return to the borough and find enough food to survive. As well as ensuring we don’t lose important habitats for wild insects, the council is creating new ones for them, including pollinator-friendly wildflower meadows and grasslands, as well as planting more native trees and hedges, all of which help boost insect populations.
The council is also installing bird (and bat) boxes that can be used by as many different species as possible, including swifts, for nesting and successfully rearing their young. Swift boxes are specially designed to be used by swifts, especially where existing nesting places are limited or missing.
Once installed high up on the side of a building they can last for up to 25 years, and are part of a national programme, now being rolled out across Lambeth, to offer swifts as many opportunities to nest, rear their young and continue to return each year.