Bring Swifts back to Bristol

This is a proposal that will cost Bristol City Council & local tax payers nothing, but will help combat the decline in the UK’s breeding population of swifts. At European Green Capital 2015, let’s set an example to other British cities & challenge them to do better than Bristol!

Swifts are amazing!

Swifts are migratory birds that breed in Europe in summer. British swifts fly over 14,000 miles each year, leaving the UK in early August for Equatorial & Southern Africa, where their feeding grounds are, and returning in early May.

The numbers of birds nesting in the UK has shown a dramatic decline over the last decades, by as much as 50% in the last decade alone, & is still declining.

They are extraordinary & fascinating birds, as the only time they land is when they are breeding. Everything else, even sleeping, is done on the wing. They have been recorded as living up to 18 years. They are the fastest bird in level flight – only the peregrine falcon is faster, & that’s only when diving – having been recorded at reaching speeds of over 110km/hour (around 70 mph). They appear to close down half of their brain to “sleep” while on the wing. Research has found that they can fly to altitudes of an amazing 10,000 feet at night time, & can also navigate through different wind speeds while sleeping, automatically adjusting their flight to stay on a specific course. Wow!

Having once been quite common, these amazing birds are being squeezed out of Britain. Not only is this a conservation issue, their loss deprives us of the thrill of watching their aerial acrobatics & hearing their calls – the call that in May announces the coming of summer. We also lose the services they provide us – they eat large numbers of insects like mosquitoes!

Why are swifts declining?

There may be many reasons, but certainly the loss of nesting sites is certainly one.

Swifts used to be cave, cliff & tree-hole dwellers, but at some point – it’s thought in Roman times – the swifts changed their behaviour & started to nest under the roofs & eaves of our buildings. But now, because buildings are designed to be airtight & older buildings are being converted to make them so, nesting sites for them are disappearing.

We have happliy co-existed with them nesting under the eaves & roof spaces of our buildings for centuries. But now, through thoughtlessness alone, we are causing their numbers to plummet. It doesn’t have to be this way!

So what’s the idea?

No, it doesn’t have to be this way, & it doesn’t take much to change it. We can retrofit nesting boxes to our homes ( has lots of advice) but better still, we can create new nesting sites in all new buildings simply by putting some special bricks in the walls, called swift bricks, in place of ordinary ones. This is being done with success elsewhere in Europe, & here too, but we need to step up our efforts.

I therefore propose a new bye-law that all new buildings in Bristol are required to make nesting provision for swifts by the simple expedient of installing swift bricks. The trivial cost of this would be borne by developers & so would not cost the Council a penny.

Where developers are converting older properties, the same requirement should also apply. As part of the process of gaining planning permission for new build and conversions, developers should also be asked to work with local organisations such as churches, whose spires can often be retrofitted with swift boxes. A church spire has been successfully made swift-friendly in Reading. ( If developers fund such collaborations, with the help of volunteers from the local community to do the work, there’s no reason we can’t improve things for the swift in Bristol.

Why the contribution is important

This is important, not just to halt the decline of the swift, but to help to restore its numbers.

The world is fast losing its biodiversity. Quite often, it isn’t easy to see what can be done to halt species extinctions. But in this case, we can make a difference, by a simple, tiny change which is working elsewhere. Its cost to developers would be trivial, & far from conflicting with human interests, it enhances our environment, provides pleasure to us, & helps in the control of pesky mosquitoes!

As European Green Capital 2015, it is a good opportunity for Bristol to show its commitment to biodiversity that won’t cost tax payers anything.

by user412750 on December 20, 2013 at 09:59AM

Current Rating

Average rating: 4.4
Based on: 33 votes


  • Posted by user122507 December 20, 2013 at 17:47

    Brilliant idea!
  • Posted by user837814 December 22, 2013 at 10:17

    A wonderful idea. I'm sure most developers would be keen to be part of such positive scheme to bring wildlife back into the heart of Bristol. These swift bricks are cheap and easy to install plus they blend in so well that they become almost "invisible" on the building. This would also be a great opportunity for the Bristol City Council to do the same and fit some of these bricks on their own building as and when they are refurbished. These swift bricks are also wildlife friendly to lots of other species as well,including house sparrows, starlings, tits and bats to name but a few. Come on George let's give it a go and get wildlife back into Bristol once again for everyone to enjoy.
  • Posted by user412750 December 22, 2013 at 13:45

    This comment has been removed by a moderator.

  • Posted by user195539 December 22, 2013 at 15:04

    Very good idea that has been pioneered elsewhere (in UK) with huge success. If you make some colonies accessible to bird ringers, you will get some very interesting results. Lew N (EnvSc)
  • Posted by user412750 December 23, 2013 at 22:23

    I omitted to give this information in the idea above, which I'd like to add:

    Swifts need to be attracted to new places where they can nest. As their numbers have declined so much, we need to "trick" the birds into thinking other swifts are already present at new nesting sites. Swift Conservation has created CDs of swift calls for playing at new nesting sites. These recorded calls have been successful when used for this purpose elsewhere. Thus, to turn the idea into a practical success, developers will need also to purchase and provide these CDs (another trivial expense) at each new nesting site.
  • Posted by user907270 December 31, 2013 at 10:18

    Very good idea
  • Posted by user417663 December 31, 2013 at 10:47

    Excellent idea.
    Bringing nature back into the City.
  • Posted by user327625 December 31, 2013 at 10:49

    Firstly a great idea to bring wildlife back into the centre of Bristol and secondly at no cost to the local tax payer- come on George let's get this up and running by the time Bristol becomes Europe's green capital in 2015.
  • Posted by user807214 December 31, 2013 at 11:17

    Good idea
  • Posted by user898053 December 31, 2013 at 11:20

    this is a fantastic idea
  • Posted by user426776 December 31, 2013 at 11:23

    What a superb idea. I really love to watch swifts flying around my house in the summer.
  • Posted by user251846 December 31, 2013 at 14:40

    Great idea, although we do get plenty of Swifts and Swallows in and around our garden in BS4. Maybe they like this part of Bristol better (and quite rightly...).
  • Posted by user819849 January 08, 2014 at 10:54

    This is a great idea. Screaming swifts are evocative of summer and a bird that can easily be enjoyed by people living and working in town. But they do need our buildings - residential and commercial - to breed in. Bristol could be a real example to the rest of the UK here as well as building its own swift numbers with the simple steps in this proposal.
  • Posted by user623382 January 09, 2014 at 12:06

    Fabulous idea! Can't imagine life without swifts. I long for their return each year. We had swift boxes made and inserted when external insulation was fitted a couple of years ago and a roof needed extending. Will now try the CD of calls to let the swifts know they are here.
    The special brick suggestion so simple. Let's do it!
  • Posted by user600840 January 10, 2014 at 10:42

    Swifts currently need all the help they can get as nest sites are being reduced nationwide by modern building techniques. It is simple and cheap to add swift friendly sites to new builds as well as incorporating them in renovations and, even, current buildings. I commend this initiative as being a really inovative conservation idea.
  • Posted by user283048 January 12, 2014 at 19:47

    Greatly in favour of these proposals
    Swifts these days need all the friends and help they can get. Persuading developers, planners and building/roofing contractors of their needs is a continuous uphill challenge, so let's hope we can roll it out over the whole country in time, before it's too late. They still do nest in caves and cliffs in this country, but I doubt if that will save them now.
  • Posted by user675375 January 14, 2014 at 12:31

    I think this is a wonderful idea, and I hope that it is taken up. I cannot see any reason why it would not be, as it will not cost any public money to do so.
    I look forward to the arrival of the swifts every year, and I love hearing and seeing them. However, there are all too few of them now. It is a tragedy that I can count the numbers that I see locally on the fingers of one hand. It is so sad that the birds make this huge journey to the UK, only for many of them to find nowhere to nest and rear young.
    We have to act to put a stop to this decline.
    Please adopt this idea.
  • Posted by user394898 January 23, 2014 at 15:52

    I like the idea of using swift bricks for this admirable purpose, but I fall short of supporting the idea of creating a regulation to make it compulsory. If the bricks are as cheap as the idea suggests I would have thought that publicity and encouragement would be sufficient. I had never heard of swift bricks until today, but I would be happy to include some when I am next involved in building, but I would prefer to do it without compulsion.
  • Posted by user120386 February 04, 2014 at 12:36

    Looking up in the sky in summer what better sight than to see these excited screaming birds flying at high speed around rooftops and houses. Let us get them back into Bristol as a common sight.
  • Posted by user128429 March 11, 2014 at 13:53

    Lets hope this project is taken seriously because it is simple, cheap and effective. I would love to have a swift box but there are so many cats where I live the birds are better off elsewhere!!
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