Hackney moves swiftly, which is good news for these magnificent flying machines

© david.altheer@gmail.com
Swifts over Clapton last year, the kind of sight Hackney council wants for future generations

* Update, August 2018: No more than 30 swifts were counted over the Loving Dalston office this summer at any one time, which seemed like a decline over a 10-year period, and by 13 August 2018 most had apparently set out for Africa. Only one or two stragglers could be seen in the Hackney sky, which is roughly to schedule but may have been hastened by the lack of rainfall in the UK this year — and possible consequential shortage of insects 



THE EDITOR OF Loving Dalston is also a nature conservationist who has been campaigning to save an extraordinary little bird from the worst features of the modern world.

David Altheer has been writing about the swift, the swallow-like migrant that flies to Europe from Africa every year in the spring before returning in summer.

He has been talking to influential figures on the bird’s behalf. Hackney council planning sub-committee chief Vincent Stops made the right noises but nothing meaningful resulted.

Until now. Three years on, Loving Dalston’s articles and quiet lobbying have paid off: Hackney has announced a set of proposals to reverse the decline of Apus apus in the borough because of habitat loss.

The council notes that swifts are “unique among birds in that they rely… on the built environment for nesting space”. They like to nest under eaves. See photograph here. 

© david.altheer@gmail.com
A swift that returns annually to Dalston to nest, from which the line shows it flying
Swifts0617: @ nest in Dalston London E8 260617 © david,altheer@gmail,com
One last eave: about to enter the Dalston nest site

Unfortunately, “as older buildings are renovated and newer buildings are totally sealed, available nesting sites for swifts to raise their young have fallen dramatically”, a problem for swifts, which like to mate for life and use the one nesting site. 

The council adds: “They may stun or even kill themselves trying to re-enter if it [the nest entrance] is blocked.”

New-build properties often did not include swift nest boxes or  nest bricks.

The council says it “will now take action in three key areas”:

* the planning process. Hackney will ensure that all suitable developments include permanent nesting sites: schemes for buildings with an eaves height of at least 7m will have to provide nesting boxes for swifts, sparrows, starlings and/or bats;

* ensuring that permanent swift nests are built into all suitable new council housing developments;

* identifying and creating a register of existing council-owned housing and buildings where ‘swift boxes’ could be fitted retrospectively. Volunteer group Hackney Swifts will be consulted.

In its new-build council housing programme, the council will provide swift bricks — nest boxes set flush into an external wall —   “in all suitably designed buildings”.

Swifts: nests erected @ rear of Cecilia Road, Dalston E8 house by KC Construction Services 0800 002 9576 44 Iveagh Close Victoria Pk Lon E9 7BW © david.altheer@gmail.com
Homes for little heroes: swift nest boxes on an E8 terrace

In a press statement, sustainability councillor Jon Burke said: “Hackney now has a series of concrete proposals for addressing swift habitat loss… we’ll be seeking to halt and reverse [their] decline.” 

They key words there are “proposals” and “seeking to” — an asterisked footnote says “Due for [Hackney council] ratification following public consultation and examination in 2019”.

Councillor Stops contacted the editor to say it was he who “initiated the process of Planning [the planning department] considering these [three] issues”. 

He adds: “My understanding is that the swifts group [Hackney Swifts] met one of the council planners who has a personal interest in swifts.

“Indeed, there have been several recent applications where bird and swift boxes have been conditioned.”

Hamish Scott 200618

* Architect Lisa Shell leads a free walk looking at swift nest boxes and sites in the borough, starting in De Beauvoir Square, Hackney N1 4LG, tonight Wednesday 21 June 2018 at 7.30. Fully booked but you might get a cancellation; if not, there are pubs and other diversions near by. It’s one of several events on during Swift Awareness Week, which ends on Saturday 23 2018 or Sunday 24 June 2018, depending on who’s speaking. 

* How to build/buy/install a swift nest box 

© John Stimpson

* Backstory: Overground rail’s Hackney line on swifts

* Photographs © DavidAltheer@gmail.com, and for sale for reproduction. Bigger format versions are usually available.

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