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Monday, 29 June 2015

"Things which really work"?

Or, if you build it, will they come....?

This is the new swift nesting tower on Paris St roundabout, installed over weekend of 27-28 June.

Swifts are believed to be suffering a national decline, partly due, it is thought, to lack of nesting sites. These are urban birds, which presumably find our tall urban buildings to be similar to vertical cliffs, and feed on the aerial plankton of invertebrates in updrafts and thermals. Their swooping free-flying around the rooftops on a summer's day is exhilarating to watch. This year I've not seen or heard so many swift screaming parties around St David's, but colleagues report plenty zooming around around Newtown and Heavitree. As they have come, Exeter has built it.

The final tower design, by architect Rafał Pieszko, is different from original sketch visualisations (see; the tower is similar to one already tried in Poland ( Each of the 'arms' of the 'Y' is packed with swift boxes, which, because of the upward angle, should remain shaded from direct sun. The shape echoes that of the birds in flight. Playing recorded swift calls is said to encourage adoption of new swift boxes considerably, hence the intermittent bursts, which seem to be powered by solar panels.

Around the base of the tower is wildflower planting. Will it all work? At ~8.5m high, is the structure a bit low? Though it is known swifts can nest at 5m height. One of the advantages of swift boxes is that, even if swifts themselves don't use them, many other species can, including house sparrows, populations of which have their own recent and drastic decline to deal with. Yesterday there were several sparrows enjoying bashing about among the poppies and cornflowers at least.

A number of urban swift conservation projects are running in the UK, which on a national scale this would help contribute towards. Some more information about these, and about the decline of swifts, is below.

Exeter Wild City
Cambridge, a similar art/ecology project

Swift conservation news
Examples of building projects

I understand the funding was planning gain money dedicated to art/ecological projects, and wouldn't otherwise have been available.
An earlier design, from Exeter City Council website