Super swift streets save Stockport's screaming squadrons

Swift boxes (c) Cheshire Wildlife Trust

Cheshire Wildlife Trust have helped to ensure that swifts have a home in Stockport thanks to funding from the Governments Green Recovery Challenge Fund.

Thanks to funding from the Government’s Green Challenge Recovery Fund, Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s Wild Stockport team has been able to create five new swift streets across Stockport.

These enigmatic summer visitors are no doubt a familiar sight, and sound, to most Stockport residents, but swift numbers are falling quickly across the UK. A number of initiatives have been running across the country to halt these declines, many focusing on the urban spaces that swifts call home. This is where the Wild Stockport team comes in, helping Stockport join a number of swift towns, including Macclesfield, Chester, and others further afield.

Naomi Cooper, Wild Stockport Trainee, said: “A swift street is a community made up of neighbouring houses, connected in the shared goal of supporting swift colonies. It has been fantastic to see the uptake of swift streets in Stockport. Residents have been incredibly eager to help save these wonderful birds. We have focused on providing swifts with much-needed nest sites, providing an average of 10 nest boxes per street. Swifts usually nest under eaves on houses, but due to soffits and facia boards being renovated over the past couple of decades, they have seen their homes blocked up. This is thought to be one of the main drivers of declining swift numbers. So we have worked with residents to install specially designed nest boxes, giving Stockport swifts a fighting chance.

We have worked with residents to install specially designed nest boxes, giving Stockport swifts a fighting chance.
Naomi Cooper
Wild Stockport Trainee, Cheshire Wildlife Trust

The five swift streets are: Longmead Avenue in Hazel Grove, Longhurst Lane, Lockside and Townscliffe road in Marple and Mellor, and Queens Road in Cheadle Hulme. However, it is hoped that more streets will come forward and help to protect swifts for future generations to enjoy.

Swift populations have declined by roughly 60% in the past 25 years. This saw them added to the red list of British Birds, alongside other once-common species such as starlings and house sparrows, all of which have seen their populations decline by over 50% since 1997. This is a very clear sign that our towns and cities are losing wildlife at a rapid rate. But all is not lost. Project Officer Rachael Nellist, alongside Trainees Eve Taylor and Naomi Cooper, have been helping wildlife across Stockport by mobilising residents to take action for hedgehogs, pollinators, and swifts.

In total, the team has helped over 1400 people across Stockport to connect with and take action for their local wildlife.

Wild Stockport Trainee, Eve, helping to install swift boxes (c) Cheshire Wildlife Trust

Wild Stockport Trainee, Eve (c) Cheshire Wildlife Trust

Wild Stockport Trainee, Eve, has been blown away by the impact their work has had on local people. “What has been great to see is people connecting with each other, as well as with wildlife. We’ve had a range of people taking action for nature, from young children to a lovely 100-year-old lady, who planted some wildlife-friendly flowers at one of our events. Our need for nature is something we all have in common, as is our love for it. It has been great to see people come together to protect it and to form communities around shared joy.”

Naomi has some top tips for anyone looking to connect with their community and form their own swift street. “It’s important to provide the right type of nest box in the right location for swifts. They are quite loyal and they live in colonies rather than as individual pairs. So, if you already have swifts in your street, then adding new nest boxes should help that colony to build in number year on year.

If you don’t already have swifts then you can still put up a box but you might have to look into playing swift calls through a speaker to attract birds in. They also need to be high up, so the boxes need to go under the eaves of at least two-story houses. It’s not just about nest boxes though. They also need plenty of insect food to raise their chicks with and to help them fatten up before they migrate at the end of summer. So, it’s time to put away the pesticides, grow native wildflowers in the lawn, plant trees, and promote healthy, vibrant habitats right in your garden. There are things we can all do to help swifts and to make sure their joyful calls are heard over our town in the future.”

Installing swift boxes in Stockport (c) Cheshire Wildlife Trust

Installing swift boxes in Stockport (c) Cheshire Wildlife Trust

The Wild Stockport team purchased their swift boxes from John Stimpson, an 80-year-old retired salesman from Cambridgeshire.

John began making swift boxes 13 years ago, after noticing the alarming decline of these birds. He can work up to 13 hours a day to fulfil all his orders, charging £20 per box just to cover the cost of his materials. John set himself a challenge which was backed by Chris Packham, to make 30,000 swift boxes before his 80th birthday. And on the 20th of January 2022, the team's final day of installing swift boxes across Stockport, John turned 80 and reached his target with one to spare. Creating a total of 30,001 swift boxes!

While we can’t all make tens of thousands of swift boxes, you can still make a difference in your local area by putting up a box and gardening with wildlife in mind. If you are interested in finding out how you can help swifts or become a swift street then you can get in touch with us via our webpage.

This project is funded by the Government's Green Recovery Challenge Fund, accessed through the Greater Manchester Environment Fund. The fund was developed by Defra and its Arm's-Length Bodies. It is being delivered by The National Lottery Heritage Fund in partnership with Natural England, the Environment Agency, and Forestry Commission.

Discover our other Green Recovery Challenge Fund projects:

 

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