(photos: Roger Wyatt)

This is a brief summary of highlights of our Swift season. I hope it reflects at least some of the
contributions of many volunteers and enthusiasts.
There was some positive evidence in answer to the perennial question ‘how did the Swifts do this
year?’ (see below). But worryingly Gillian Westray reported several very underweight Swifts arriving
for care despite reasonable weather, and the publication of a report from Germany about a large
decline in insect populations in nature reserves is a matter of considerable concern*.

10 years of Cherwell Swifts
Thanks to the generosity of Martin Fiennes and with considerable logistical help from the RSPB, about 70
people were hosted at Broughton Castle in June to mark 10 years of the Cherwell Swifts Project. Kendrew
Colhoun (RSPB Northern Ireland) gave an entertaining and informative talk about his research into Swifts’
foraging behaviour, and later we were entertained outside by Broughton’s own breeding Swifts.

RSPB Research
We helped again this year with some ongoing research. The RSPB is trialling a method for estimating
numbers of breeding Swifts from counts of flying birds. The research relies on accurate numbers of
breeding pairs being available, and in some of our villages we have these. Julia Banbury the Research
Assistant, worked with local Swift volunteers in Bodicote, Bloxham and Bicester. The collaboration
worked exceptionally well for us, and in the segment of Bicester she surveyed Julia found two nest sites
we had not previously known about.

News from the villages
My home village of Kirtlington rates a mention because 2 Ibstock Swift bricks (installed in a house
extension in 2010) were used by Swifts for the first time. As often happens House Sparrows had occupied
them for some years previously. This is a useful information to have when talking to new nest box owners
about the need for patience, and to explain that having alternative sites in place before maintenance
work affecting traditional sites is carried out, is highly desirable. We also had birds prospecting two other
new sites in the village – one nest box and one at Chris Powles’s home.
Richard in Combe had 34 young birds fledge from 17 nests at his home colony (plus another 7
prospecting pairs) and Clive in Ledwell and Pete in Drayton had an average of just under 2 birds per nest
fledge from their smaller colonies (a total of 16 birds from 9 nests). They also both had prospecting pairs.
These figures compare favourably with recent years.

More Swift Bricks

Swift bricks have been made a condition of several new developments in Bicester (20 at one site) and Banbury. Thanks to the advocacy of John Dunleavy, residents at a McCarthy and Stone site in Chipping Norton will benefit from more wildlife including, we hope, Swifts using bricks which will be installed there. John is now working on Marks and Spencer to do the same at their development of the neighbouring site. Finally, thanks to the good offices of Stephen Fitt, Cambridge system bricks are already being installed at a new Duchy of Cornwall development in Bletchingdon (photo left). By the time it is finished there should be 50 bricks there.

Oxford Swift City Project
The RSPB-led Oxford Swift City project got off to a promising start. This is not a report on that project, but as a project partner I mention here a couple of things I have been involved with. Jocelyne Hughes and I acted as guides on several city walks. Also I liaised with a member of staff at University College who made and put up nest boxes on a new building at the college (below left).

(photo: Vikki Rose)


Thanks to the Oxford City Council (another project partner) and its Environmental Quality Team, 20 Swift
bricks were included in the new Westgate shopping centre which opened in October 2017. Eight of them
are shown in the photo (above right). The blue arrows mark 2 of them, and 6 of the others are in similar
places along the brickwork in the picture.
Finally the single most positive piece of hard Swift news from these parts. In 2017, 58 young Swifts
fledged from the Museum of Natural History in Oxford. This is the highest number since 2010 by a
considerable margin.

Bloxham Swifts


Bloxham’s human population: c.3500. Swift population 56 pairs. We know this because the nest sites have been thoroughly surveyed by local volunteers for several years; this year with help from Julia Banbury (see above). Numbers in the pink circles show the numbers of nests. The location of all these nests is known. The Avenue which has 26 nests is a post-WW2 council-built development. The circle with a zero had a nest in 2016 but not in 2017.

Map: David Yates


Bloxham volunteers also organise other events. They had a stall at the village festival and several nest box installations will result from this. In July they provided entertainment for a lot of children at the Compton Verney Family Fun Day, and the Christmas Tree they decorated as part of the festival at the parish church in December was greatly admired.

State of Nature in Oxfordshire
Wild Oxfordshire published its State of Nature in Oxfordshire Report this year. We are were delighted that Cherwell Swifts features as a case study in the report.

Plans for 2018


I intend to organise a more thorough survey of the Swifts in Banbury, but in 2017 Colin Wilkinson took a wonderful sequence of photos including this one, of a young Swift as it plucked up courage to fledge from a nest near the Banbury RSPB office in July. We will be organising several events as part of the first national Swift Awareness Week (16th- 24th June 2018). If anyone reading this would like to participate and has ideas or suggestions, please contact me.
Photo: Colin Wilkinson

As usual I have received great support from staff at Cherwell District Council. This year I am much
indebted to Louise Sherwell, who was seconded as part-time ecologist with the Council, for researching
and replying to my numerous questions about planning applications so promptly and efficiently.
Thanks as usual to all who have monitored and reported on nest sites, sent in records, raised alerts about
building work and about opportunities for installing bricks and boxes or made space for Swifts in their own
homes; also to everyone who has organised events, walks and meetings; to TVERC for checking the records
so carefully and submitting them to the Council; to the ever-willing team of nest box installers; to Chris
Powles for visiting several older properties with me and advising about preserving and/or creating new nest
places; to Daniel Messer for Swift mapping and Gillian Westray for another summer of dedicated caring.

*Hallmann CA, Sorg M, Jongejans E, Siepel H, Hofland N, Schwan H, et al. (2017) More than 75
percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas. PLoS ONE 12(10):

Chris Mason
February 2018

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