In your own words, tell us about your project.
I am an administrator by profession but wildlife and conservation is my passion. Whilst working as an administrator at GMIT in Castlebar I became aware that the number of Swifts visiting the college campus, an old psychiatric hospital dating back to the 1800s, was declining year on year. I was involved in setting up the college's 'Green Campus' project and when we embarked on Biodiversity themed projects in 2011 it was my opportunity to help the Swift by setting up the first nest box project in County Mayo. By installing Swift specific nest boxes in the right location, playing attraction calls to help the birds find the nest boxes, we can provide secure nest sites for this amazing bird. This first project has been hugely successful and in 2018 we had 10 pairs in residence. To help raise awareness, cameras have been installed in all the nest boxes and images are live-streamed 24 hours a day during the breeding season. With the success of that first project I realised it was important and possible to help Swifts throughout the county by providing a nest box project in every town. This plan has now been realised and there are now over 20 nest box projects throughout the county. Most of these projects are of nest boxes installed on the outside of existing buildings especially schools. The most exciting projects have been realised by working with Mayo County Council to build nest boxes into the fabric of two new buildings, the Westport Town Hall and the Castlebar Swimming Pool. Building nest boxes into the fabric of a building is the best way to secure the long-term future of Swifts.
Why did you do this work?
The Swift's full name is the 'Common Swift' but it is far from 'common' and is in fact a bird of conservation concern. In Ireland alone the Swift population has declined by over 40% in the past 30 years. Swifts are urban birds with their nest sites being mostly located in our towns and villages. The main reason for their population decline is loss of nest sites when old buildings in our towns are renovated or demolished. When I learned about the plight of this amazing bird I wanted to do something to halt the decline and to help recover the population. For the past 7 years I have been setting up nest box projects in towns throughout County Mayo to help recover the population of Swifts. In addition to setting up nest box projects I have surveyed every town in the County to identify and record all the buildings where Swifts have nest sites to try to protect these sites. When a Swift finds a nest site it will nest there for the rest of its life, which can be up to 10 years, so it is extremely important to try to protect existing nest sites and to provide additional nest sites through nest box projects. In recent years my conservation work for Swifts has expanded and I now give advice and support to people throughout the Republic of Ireland.
What was the impact or outcome of your project?
Swifts are faithful to their partner and nest site. They breed in the exact same place every year for life. If their nest site is lost to them, for example blocked-up during building renovation work, then the birds will be homeless and are in danger of never being able to find a replacement nest site.
Between 2012 and 2016 every town in County Mayo was surveyed by me and several volunteers. We recorded the buildings where Swifts are nesting ‘naturally’ and identified each individual nest site entrance. This survey showed that the number of occupied nest sites in the county is just over 290. The detailed surveys are now being used to monitor and protect the nest sites and have already been put to practical use to protect the Swift colonies in three protected structures when they were being renovated. In essence, if nest site entrances are identified and recorded in detail, it is possible to protect them during building renovation by working with architects and builders.
This Swift survey of County Mayo’s towns was the first time a detailed county survey had been carried out in Ireland. It helped establish a specific surveying model and methodology that is now being shared and promoted across the country.
In parallel with the surveying work, nest box projects have been set up in every town in Mayo. In 2018, the occupancy of nest boxes at several projects has shown that have already increased the Swift breeding population by 12%. The new buildings where we have been able to build nest boxes into the fabric of walls have proved the most successful. In fact, at the Castlebar Swimming Pool build-in nest boxes we saw Swifts entering 7 of the 24 boxes within 6 weeks
Do you have any tips or advice for similar projects?
If we want to ensure the long-term future of Swift colonies in Irish towns we need to provide secure breeding locations. I believe that the best way to do this is to build nest boxes into the fabric of new public buildings. An ideal public building for such a project is a school because it has great awareness raising potential as well as providing the much needed nest sites.
Community groups can contact their local schools and suggest such a project.
This type of project is also a great asset to Green Schools and Tidy Towns under the Biodiversity theme.
I have provided a platform, Swift Conservation Ireland, where volunteers, working on swift conservation projects across the country, to share their efforts and obtain information, advice and support. With voluntary technical support a website was created www.swiftconservation.ie. The website has useful documents on all aspects of Swift conservation including how to build swift nest boxes into a wall and how to carry out nest site surveys.
We can all help Swifts by simply providing nest boxes in the right location. Having amassed a wide range of experience on all aspects conservation, I am happy to provide help and advice to any person or group wishing to help their local Swift population.
Which Sustainable Development Goals does your work link to?
Goal 15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.
Location of Project