22 June 2022

Saving swifts in De Beauvoir Town




Iveta Senasiova

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Swifts are a familiar sight in De Beauvoir Town, with at least 20 pairs estimated to nest in the area.

With support from local residents, Hackney Council, St Peter De Beauvoir Church, The Scolt Head pub, and The Benyon Estate, more than 50 nest boxes for swifts have been installed, providing space for the birds as they return to the UK to breed in early May each year after wintering in Africa.

Championing the birds in the local area is the De Beauvoir Swifts group, set up to educate local people and provide practical advice, led by environmental consultant Mike Priaulx.

Mike shared details of the group’s recent work on the Kingsgate Estate at the north end of the town to save a pair of nesting swifts.

“The Kingsgate Estate in De Beauvoir is known to host a few pairs of nesting swifts, as well as house sparrows and starlings, all red-listed urban birds,” Mike explained.

“In summer 2020, scaffolding was erected by Hackney Council’s housing department for maintenance in an area not known to host swifts.

“A resident alerted the De Beauvoir Swifts Group that a pair of swifts was trying to get past the scaffolding as entry to the previously unidentified nest site was now blocked. Although the site was not known, preventing access to a nest is still a contravention of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

“The Swifts Group discussed with the housing department and they arranged to have the scaffolding removed – in this case the work had actually been completed so this didn't affect the works.

“The scaffolders were able to look inside the nest site and there was an egg inside. Swift eggs and chicks are unusual in that they can survive unattended for several days as swifts sometimes travel long distances, even into mainland Europe, to avoid bad weather. The chicks enter a torpor state similar to hibernation. It just means a longer time in the nest until they fledge.

“Once the scaffolding was removed, the swifts returned to their nest site. The Hackney Council housing department now has a list of known nest sites to help them programme maintenance to avoid conflict with nesting swifts and other birds.”

Justina, a resident of the Kingsgate Estate, said: “Watching swifts is a joy and the day they return marks the beginning of summer for me. I was even more delighted when I realized that a pair had chosen part of our building as a home. Sadly, some scaffolding was put up in June which blocked them from reaching their nest. But once they were informed of the problem Hackney's Housing Services took down the part of the scaffolding that was in the way and the birds were able to return.

“Hopefully now that the Council are aware of them they will ensure that the swifts are not disturbed again by only doing building works outside of the nesting season. Additional pairs of swifts have since moved into other parts of the building so it's even more vital to respect their space.”

If you’d like to learn more about our feathered friends or show your support, join Mike and his team for the Hackney walk during Swift Awareness Week on Thursday 7th July, at 7:30pm. If you have any questions or would like more details email the team at: londonsaw2022@gmail.com 

For details of the walk, and to find out more about swifts in the area, follow @debeauvoirswifts on Instagram, @hackneyswifts on Twitter, or visit the group’s website here.

Photo copyright: The Benyon Estate, De Beauvoir Swifts, and De Beauvoir Gardeners