A local swift enthusiast explains how Swift Streets took flight...



Urgent action is needed for swifts, as Hampshire Swifts reports: 

These beautiful and charismatic birds have declined across Hampshire and the UK by more than 50% over the past 23 years.

Looking at their website I could see that great strides have been made in similar towns, such as Lymington. I asked myself, if this can be done in Lymington why can't it be done here in Petersfield? And now...there is a small project taking place in Petersfield - in Penns Road and Station Road.

When PeCAN heard about what was happening they saw it as a model for an environmental project which might be replicated in other areas in Petersfield. It isn't an onerous undertaking and just takes a little bit of initiative and coordination to make it happen. I hope this blog post will inspire other streets to replicate our experiment and over time we can make Petersfield a haven for swifts!


The Seed

It all started with the wonderful sounds of swifts at dusk circling over the street as I was wrestling with, and loving, the luxury of a garden in Lockdown 1. New to the area, the sound of the swifts was magical. What a privilege to be in that space. After enquiries over the following months and reading up on the work of Hampshire Swifts it occurred to me that we could offer an environment for swifts by putting up boxes - which can be purchased from them, the RSBP and other sources. Subsequently I learnt that in Buriton, Hampshire Swifts had installed boxes purchased by a group of enthusiastic residents, after holding a stall to gain interest at their Village Fete. It was at that point I asked myself “Why couldn't we do the same thing here?”.


How are we doing it in Penns Road and Station Road?


The Nest

After gathering more knowledge in 2022 I made a decision to see if other residents were interested in putting up boxes. We had a small WhatsApp Group set up for the Queen's birthday street party and I used this to sound out interest in the community. The response was so positive I put a letter through every door and even more people, not on the WhatsApp Group, came forward - which was fantastic. Later this month, we will have 24 nesting boxes installed, alongside a number of call boxes. This is taking place on the 28th of April, before the swifts return from Africa to breed here in the UK. The Hampshire Swifts boxes are currently £30 and their expert on swifts Tim Norriss will install them at a cost of £5 per box. It is essential to have them situated in the best orientation for success in attracting the birds.


The Loss

While talking to people in my area I learnt that swifts had been nesting in the Car Showroom on Station Road from at least 1986. When the roof was renovated the breeding space for their nests was blocked up and, upsettingly, dead birds were found in the building.


Clean and Tidy

My research tells me that swifts are very clean birds. Unlike swallows and martins they keep their houses clean and take the detritus away from their nest boxes, so this should not be a problem. Some people worry about the impact of cats. I think we all have to accept that there might be an occasional baby that falls out of the nest but this is the exception, not the rule, so don't let it put you off.


The Future

Here in Penns Road and Station Road we will have new homes for our swifts and hopefully returning birds will take advantage of them, having lost their previous home of many years. Patience is required! It can often take a few years for swifts to adopt a box but there are examples of them nesting in new boxes in year one. The boxes have to go up in the right places.

This link will give you a taste of the excitement a swift box can bring: https://www.hampshireswifts.co.uk/post/lee-on-solent-swifts

In the coming months I hope to be able to report on the progression of interest from the swifts here. We are all feeling very excited to get our boxes installed, and to see how many visits we get from swifts in the coming months and years.


The PeCAN Project


The hope is that the PeCAN project will help Petersfield cultivate a bigger scream of swifts (the collective term) to go back to Africa for the winter and return in May 2024, gracing the sky over our town again and for years to come. PeCAN has taken the decision to make this a specific project and I hope this blog post will inspire people as individuals or as a group to consider giving it a try. With small groups taking action across the whole of Petersfield we could become a model within the National Park, for creating Swift Streets.

Individuals could get their own box. Small community groups could come together and replicate this small project in their own neighbourhoods, and over time these small steps will add up to build a much bigger success story. You can view previous projects, both collective and individual, if you visit the Hampshire Swifts website.

It was easy in Penns Road and Station Road to spark interest and this attempt has created a joint endeavour in the community as a whole. Plus people have got to know their neighbours a little better as a result of discussions about the project. We are happy to give you advice about how we did it, although most information is in this blog post.

I cannot wait to report back and let you know what happens next. If you are in the Penns Road area on 28th April you will be able to see the boxes going up from 10am, and how they look on the houses. You can also find out more about this wonderful bird at a free talk on Tuesday 25th April at 7pm in The Courthouse at Petersfield Museum.


Important Note for Tenants: If you are renting your house you will have to gain permission to put a box up and have something in writing to confirm this if Hampshire Swifts are installing them for you.


Start looking out to the south at the end of April for the first signs of returning swifts!


Flying off for now.

Sophie Swift