Return of Swifts to the Towers of Warrington

Swifts (Apus apus) are superb fliers; you will see them soon when they return to Warrington from Southern Africa. They spend most of the year in Africa but during our summer the birds migrate to the UK to breed from May to September

The Warrington Nature Conservation Forum (WNCF) hope that they will nest in the St Elphin Tower in the swift nest boxes that they installed late last year and in the Swift Tower close to the Warrington Guardian Head Office on Centre Park.

Swift Tower at Centre Park, Warrington

They nest inside cavities, mostly in buildings across traditional terraced housing estates in Warrington and their nests are located high up in the roof space under the eaves of old houses and churches where the birds can drop into the air from the high nest entrance.

There used to be a colony of swifts breeding in St Elphin’s Church Tower in Warrington for many years where their acrobatic displays were a great sight to see. Unfortunately, populations of these magnificent birds have fallen by 51% in their breeding numbers in the UK between 1995 and 2015, swifts are now an amber-listed species and no longer nest in the tower.

Brian Martin, former Chair of the Warrington Nature Conservation Forum has been studying the swifts for decades and has documented the changes across Warrington and Cheshire. He is a renowned expert on the species and said, “There are still colonies of swifts that can be seen across the town where older housing stock exists, Westy for example is a good place to see them. However, our survey results in the town confirm the national trend that their numbers have fallen.

“I have been looking at ways to reverse the downward trend by advising new house builders to design the eaves of houses to accommodate them. I have also tried to persuade people to stop blocking up existing nest entrances and encouraged others to mount swift boxes below the eaves of their houses. They are not too expensive, and you could put one below the eaves of your house.

Swift Boxes in the tower at St Elphins Chuch, Warrington

Brian’s comprehensive records show that there used to be a successful swift colony breeding in the St Elphin’s Church Tower several years ago. He has been investigating ways to improve the chances of enticing them back and after a lot of tireless work it looks as if his efforts may soon be rewarded.

He said “I contacted ornithologists Louise and Jim Bentley for their expertise in designing, constructing and installing boxes. They came to look at the site and confirmed that it was an excellent one with a high chance of establishing a colony.

With this positive news myself and Helen Lacy contacted the Rector of St Elphins, Paul Wilson, to get permission from members of the Parochial Church Council to permit the installation of the swift boxes. The Rector was very supportive, and I am pleased to announce that work to install swift boxes by Louise and Jim Bentley assisted by Les Jones of the forum took place late last summer.”

Helen said, “In an effort to draw swift’s attention to the new site and tempt the birds into the boxes at St Elphins and the Sift Tower at Centre Park recordings of swifts will be played in both towers.

It is hoped that the recordings may entice investigation by swifts that may be fruitful in future years. There is no immediate guarantee, but it is hoped that we will be able to look up at the tower this summer and see the birds in action during our warm pleasant evenings catching insects on the wing.”

Chair Geoff Settle said “I took over the Chair of the WNCF from Brian 10 years ago. I consider myself so lucky as a rooky amateur to be able to draw from expertise and knowledge from members like him and champion their work.

“Click on this link to hear an interview with radio 4, a couple of years ago, talking about the birds of Woolston Eyes at this time of the year

“I’m sure that after hearing this you will want to find out more about Warrington’s SSSI site Woolston Eyes “

Geoff Settle

Chair WNCF