Swifts arrive in the UK in late April or May to breed, usually at traditional nest sites, and leave in July or early August for Sub-Saharan Africa. Whilst in Britain their chief requirements are food for themselves and developing young, and safe breeding sites. Swifts feed on flying insects and spiderlings high up on air currents collecting between 300-1000 insects/spiderlings in each bolus of food they bring back for their chicks. Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) figures show a 57per cent reduction in their breeding numbers in the UK between 1995 and 2017, earning the species a place on the Amber List of Birds of Conservation Concern. In the London Borough of Bromley, as elsewhere in the UK, swift numbers appear to have sharply declined.

Climate change and problems they encounter overseas and during migration may contribute to their declining numbers, but they also face the following threats in the UK

Threats to swifts in London Borough of Bromley

  • Loss of nesting sites

Swifts generally nest within holes and cavities in the roofs of older buildings in larger villages, towns and cities. Renovations to roofs and modern building designs mean that there are now fewer nest sites for swifts. They are returning to discover their nest site has gone or access is blocked.

  • Loss of invertebrate prey

It has been known for some time that invertebrate numbers in Britain have been falling. Most people have noticed how few insects are found on car windscreens after a long journey. Evidence shows that current rates of decline could lead to the extinction of 41per cent of the world’s insect species over the next few decades.

Conservation status

  • RSPB Conservation Concern: Amber
  • London priority species (2019)
  • Bromley priority species

Actions carried out 2018-2020

RSPB Bromley local group carried out a comprehensive survey to identify swift nest sites in the borough in 2018 and 2019. No survey was performed in 2020 due to the Covid19 restrictions.

In addition, a team of Swift Champions has been created to encourage swift conservation within each ward. The main part of the role is to review new planning applications and to request the inclusion of swift bricks as a condition of the granting of permission. The requests take account of the nature of each development and also the proximity of existing swift populations as revealed by the surveys.

Bromley Biodiversity Partnership

Campaign to plant a native shrub or small tree in your garden: posters, talks given. Wildlife gardening promotion with advice on Friends Forum website.

Action 2021-26 Action by
Continue annual survey and publish results Bromley RSPB and volunteers
Check planning applications in areas where swifts
known to nest and request the installation of swift bricks in suitable new developments.
Bromley RSPB swift champions

Condition swift bricks on all new developments of 5m or greater in height. For residential developments, conditions will require a minimum of 2 swift bricks per dwelling. For commercial developments, at least 3 swift bricks, or one per 50sqm of floorspace, whichever is the greater, will be required. If swift bricks are not practical due to the nature of construction, for example buildings finished with external panels rather than brick or render, the planning condition will be amended to require swift boxes.

LBB planning department
Swift bricks and boxes should be installed with the advice of a professional ecologist and in accordance with Swift Conservation’s Swift Nest Bricks – installation and suppliers and best practice
guidance for planners
LBB planning department

Screen planning applications to identify whether there is a record of swifts nesting in the building using GIGL/RSPB data. In areas where swifts are known to nest but there is no record of nesting in the building, require a professional survey before any development during the swift breeding season starts.

If there is a record of swifts nesting, use a condition to prevent development during the swift breeding season (May-August) and to require that the nesting site is either retained or replaced after development

LBB planning department
Publicise plight of swifts, swift survey and possible
actions to residents, for example through walks and talks
Bromley RSPB, Bromley Biodiversity Partnership, LBB
Add swift boxes to properties where appropriate, at least 2 per property as swifts prefer to nest communally. See www.swift-conservation.org. Bromley Biodiversity Partnership, residents
Increase invertebrate numbers through:
Stopping pesticide use (including herbicides & fungicides) except in exceptional circumstances.

LBB, land managers, Bromley Biodiversity Partnership

Encouraging gardening for wildlife Bromley Biodiversity Partnership: All
Planting more native species in gardens as native invertebrates are adapted to live on and in them Bromley Biodiversity Partnership, residents

Encouraging planting of native species rich hedgerows in school grounds, parks, allotments sports grounds etc wherever appropriate. See https://www.bromleyfriendsforum.org/biodiversity.html & https://www.bromleyfriendsforum.org/uploads/1/0/7/ 2/10726735/native_plants_for_gardens_v2.pdf

Bromley Biodiversity Partnership, idverde, Friends Groups, residents associations, allotment holders etc
Encouraging ‘mini-meadows’ in gardens as per guidance on Friends Forum website https://www.bromleyfriendsforum.org/biodiversity.html Bromley Biodiversity Partnership, idverde, Friends Groups, residents associations, allotment holders etc
Increasing the area of grassland managed as hay
meadow in parks  
Managing road verges for wildlife where safe to do
LBB, idverde, TFL
Protecting and maintaining scrub whilst preventing encroachment of other habitats through good management. See Best Practice Guidance for Land Managers: Scrub Page Land managers: All
Condition green roof and walls and pollinator planting in new developments. LBB planning department

To find out more about swifts see: https://app.bto.org/birdfacts/results/bob7950.htm

More information together with help and advice for builders and about swift bricks, nest boxes and how to install them see: https://www.swift-conservation.org/

RSPB swift surveys and the swiftmapper site:


https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/conservation/conservation-and-sustainability/safeguarding- species/swiftmapper/