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Bird numbers make a swift return to New Milton estate a decade after nests were destroyed

Debbie Podjacki and Bob Lord and installed swift boxes
Debbie Podjacki and Bob Lord and installed swift boxes

A STRONGHOLD for breeding swifts in New Milton which was nearly destroyed by building work a decade ago has now been restored to its former glory, according to a bird protection group.

The Hampshire Swifts charity said that when the North Milton estate was refurbished by New Forest District Council in 2011, many nesting sites were destroyed when the buildings had their cladding and fascias replaced.

Instead of providing swift boxes and alternative homes for the large population of visiting birds at the beginning of the project, the group said, the council employed a firm of pest controls to block up holes and install pigeon spikes.

Now, however, there are large groups of swifts returning to the neighbourhood, which has been described as the species’ busiest spot in the county.

A survey of the swift population undertaken in 2020 estimated that 50-70 birds were present on 7th July and a week later 70-90 birds were recorded in large screaming parties above the housing.

The report concluded: “It is clear that the estate is a magnet for swifts.

“It may be that numbers have now returned to pre-2011 levels and this is reassuring given the disruption caused to the colony.”

Hampshire Swifts spokesperson Tim Norriss said: “Swifts have evolved to be entirely dependent on man-made buildings in which to nest.

“Swifts are faithful to their nest site, so once a pair find a site they will return to it year after year. If they return and find their nest site has been destroyed or is no longer accessible, they may not breed that year unless a new nest site is easily available nearby.”

North Milton estate resident Debbie Podjacki was first to raise the alarm in 2011, enlisting the RSPB, Swift Conservation and later Chris Packham to call for ecological enhancements to preserve the population of breeding birds which also included house sparrows and starlings.

Charity volunteer Ron Cooke with swift boxes he errects
Charity volunteer Ron Cooke with swift boxes he errects

She estimated that prior to the building work, groups of 30-60 birds could be seen overhead at any one time.

NFDC was persuaded to create 100 new nest sites for the birds by installing swift boxes and facia and soffit holes.

Tim said: “By 2012, acting on much better advice, NFDC started to install swift boxes and create new soffit nest sites but this work was delayed so only a few sites were available for the 2012 breeding season.”

Hampshire Swifts was launched five years ago to try to reverse the rapid decline in swift populations which is attributed to the use of plastic fascia and soffits which prevent access to nesting birds.

Tim added: “North Milton estate is a real stronghold for breeding swifts in Hampshire.

“When the estate was given an upgrade 10 years ago the installation of swift bricks at eaves level were included to compensate for nest sites lost during repair works.

“Due to modern construction methods virtually no new houses built in the last 20 years will ever have any of the crevice-nesting birds nesting in them.

“This is a huge catastrophe of our own making. Unless we immediately start to install integrated bird bricks in houses at an average rate of one per dwelling then the loss of urban biodiversity will continue.”

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