FARMERS are helping swifts find places to nest in Hampshire, Dorset and Wiltshire. 

More than 30 bird boxes have been installed on farms in these areas to help swifts returning for the summer. 

The Allenford and Martin Down Farmer Clusters, south and south-west of Salisbury, facilitated by Megan Lock, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s (GWCT) farmland biodiversity advisor, have installed 31 nest boxes and eight calling speakers after securing funding through three grants.

During recent surveys carried out bt the GWCT, the clusters noted that swifts were nowehre to be seen. So farmers are now trying to entice swifts back to their farms with these bird boxes.

Megan managed to secure funding for the project from the following sources: 

  • The Swire Charitable Trust through GWCT
  • Fordingbridge Greener Living
  • Hampshire County Councillor Grant from Cllr Edward Heron

“It’s been fantastic," said Megan.

"We’ve covered an area from Salisbury to Fordingbridge to Cranborne – the clusters together cover 17,500 hectares.

“These boxes provide man-made nesting sites, which helps to create those sites that are disappearing, and the callers let the swifts know they are there which greatly increases the chances of swifts using the boxes.

“It would be wonderful if we did get a nesting pair this year, but I think it might take two or three years, this is a long-term project for us and myself and the members of the Farmer Clusters will be monitoring the boxes and are hoping for them to become successful breeding sites in the future. We are already looking at how expand on this project going forward.”

Volunteers from Hampshire Swifts spent three days with Megan visiting farms across the area to install the boxes, who designed and built the boxes and callers.

In total, 31 boxes were installed on farmhouses and other farm buildings. Eight sound callers covering 10 of the boxes were put up.

Tim Norriss, of Hampshire Swifts, said: “In the last 30 years data from the BTO shows that swifts have declined by 75%. There's no doubt now there's overwhelming evidence that it is down to a loss of nest sites, that is the cause of the problem across the whole of the UK. It is probably slightly worse in the southeast of England because there are a lot more houses being built here. There's no evidence that it is loss of insects or any other cause.”

The model has now been adopted countrywide with more than 100 Farmer Clusters in England working with and supporting more than 5,000 farmers in their conservation efforts.

“Swifts tend to be in urban areas because they like to nest in cracks and holes in buildings so very few nest sites are natural nest sites for them," added Wendy Reid, of Fordingbridge Greener Living.

"You will often find them in cities and in villages, but they will go into rural areas if, if there are sites for them.

“If you have a call player, when they're flying over they will be attracted to the sound, thinking that there might be other swifts nearby and then they will come down and check it out. Because they are site loyal, once they've got a nest site, they'll come back to that box year after year, a nest with the same partner, year after year.

“We are really excited to be able to expand the project from outside of Fordingbridge into the local farms and the wider in the rural areas outside the town.

“Over the next three to 4 to 5 years we would like to see the numbers improve as more nest sites become available for them.”