October 2018: Your Local MP
Building habitats as well as homes
I recently took part in the People’s Walk for Wildlife, led by Chris Packham, in London. Despite the wet weather - and me managing to leave home without a coat or an umbrella! - it was an inspiring day, as tens of thousands of people rallied to show how much they care about our birds, bees, badgers and beavers. A draft People’s Manifesto for Wildlife was launched on the day, and I hope we can organise a debate in Bristol. Biodiversity is in dangerous decline, and we need to wake up to the need to do something about it.
One of the things I have already been doing is to try to protect the swift, one of our most iconic birds. I was appointed RSPB Species Champion for the swift a few years and ago, and won this year’s Parliamentary Species Champion award. This enigmatic migratory bird has seen a steady decline in population in the UK - there are now fewer than 90,000 breeding pairs, down from almost 150,000 pairs just two decades ago.
Swifts prefer to nest in colonies in old buildings, walls and bridges, many of which have existed for tens and in some cases hundreds of years, as breeding pairs return to the same nesting sites year after year. Yet the refurbishment of many old buildings has unfortunately resulted in the loss of hundreds of these traditional nesting sites.
One way to combat this loss is by introducing new nesting spaces into modern developments. This is made possible through the inclusion of special swift nesting boxes which fit in alongside regular bricks and provide spaces for swifts to nest and nurture chicks. By matching the colour of the bricks, these nesting boxes are unobtrusive and low cost, making the perfect addition to new builds.
I have long been campaigning for developers to include these bricks in all new builds in order to combat the decline of the swift, so it was a pleasure to visit a new housing development in St Matthias, Fishponds, recently to fit one of these swift bricks myself.
I was really pleased to see builders at the St Matthias development making efforts to support nature, not only through the use of swift bricks but also by incorporating other wildlife-friendly features into the project, such as an attenuation pond and a green area with wildflowers. I do hope others follow suit.
Conservationists are still trying to better understand the swift’s population and distribution so that efforts at conservation can be guided to the most effective places. If you know locations where swifts are nesting, do contact the RSPB or the Bristol branch of the Swift Local Network to report your sighting and help in the protection of this wonderful species.
You can find out more at www.bristolswifts.co.uk or www.rspb.org.uk