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SOS - why the emergency?

(Common) Swift Apus apus is in significant decline across the country.  British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) census data indicate recent losses of around 45% of the UK population in just under 20 years (1994-2012).

Spending 95% of their lives on the wing, Swifts are in the UK for only 3 to 4 months each year between May and August.  The remainder of their time is spent on migration to and from wintering areas in central and southern Africa.

Our summer evenings are often filled with the daredevil flights and evocative screams of Swifts chasing over the rooftops. A summer of silence is unthinkable.

The declines may partly be due to similar percentage reductions in aerial plankton – the small insects and spiders Swifts rely on for food. However many losses are due to inadvertent or even deliberate destruction of nest sites, as older buildings (public, domestic and industrial) are demolished or renovated.  The former obviously involves catastrophic loss and the latter can result in often long-established sites in roofs and under eaves being blocked and inaccessible – both a disaster for a pair returning from migration expecting to re-occupy their usual nest site.

Swift is currently an Amber List Bird of Conservation Concern (BoCC).  With only 23 years of data available (rather than 25), in the revision of the BoCC listings expected in late 2015 its status will most likely remain Amber on this technicality.  However, the rate of decline strongly suggests it should be considered as being on the Red List – the highest level of conservation concern.  Swift is also a ‘Suffolk Character Species’ in the list of Priority Species in the Suffolk Biodiversity Action Plan.

Being so strongly commensal (closely associated with human activities i.e. our buildings) there are significant opportunities for individuals and groups in communities around the UK and here in Suffolk to help reverse the decline.

Project partners

Following the amazing success of the Suffolk Community Barn Owl Project, SBG is working once again in partnership with Suffolk Wildlife Trust (SWT) to deliver the aims of SOS Swifts.   SWT also have a specific Swift page with useful information: .

We have set up a Project Team of up to 8 people, consisting of SBG Council members and SWT staff in more or less equal numbers. One person from each organisation acts as joint Project Leads and reports as appropriate to SBG Council and the SWT Conservation Manager.

We also have close links with other key players in the Swift scene including Action for Swifts and Swift Conservation and we keep up with all the latest news and views on Swifts Local Network, a UK-wide online forum.

What do we wish to achieve?

  • Raise awareness across Suffolk of the amazing life stories of Swifts and the clear and present danger to their populations

  • Promote the recording of known Swift colonies and nest sites using a dedicated page on the Suffolk Biodiversity Records Centre website

  • Promote the Swift Mapper App as an easy tool to submit records whilst out and about for those with a smart phone

  • Promote the use of external Swift nest boxes to encourage existing colonies to expand and offset losses due to renovations

  • Influence the planning system so that internal Swift nest boxes are actively considered for all large-scale strategic planning projects and major renovation projects of social housing, particularly in areas where Swifts are already present

  • Maintain links with other communities across the UK who are working hard to conserve Swifts

How are we going to do it?

Here are a few of the things we’re currently involved in:

  • We run summer SOS Swift Evenings for the public during the breeding season at sites where Swifts are known to be present. With refreshments included, these consist of an informative illustrated talk and then an opportunity to watch Swifts in the skies overhead. We plan to arrange these events in each of the Suffolk Boroughs and Districts on a rotating basis.

  • With the Suffolk Biodiversity Records Centre (this is the single database that Suffolk planners have to consult when considering permissions and mitigations) we’ve created an online recording system that allows precision mapping of swift colonies and nest sites down to the nearest 10 metres. Please use it as often as you can! It’s based on the national iRecord system and can be found here:

  • Starting in 2016 we’ll be asking people all over the county through the media and social media to become Suffolk Swift Searchers – a network of people committed to finding and recording all known Swift sites throughout the County by 2020.

  • We plan to create Suffolk Swift Bundles for householders and others to purchase. This is a box of goodies which can include all or some of:

  1. External nest boxes and advice on safe installation

  2. Information on different nest box types

  3. Information on Swift nest places in soffits and eaves

  4. Information on roof and gable repairs with regards to Swifts

  5. Swift call playback systems – to bring in first-time breeders

  6. Advice on reporting and recording Swift nest sites and colonies

How can you help our Swifts?

If you would like us to arrange an SOS Swifts Evening in your community – either in the main breeding period or at other times of the year – or you would like to become a Suffolk Swifts Searcher or find more about the information and equipment on offer in the Suffolk Swifts Bundles, please contact Suffolk Wildlife Trust at

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