The Northern Ireland Swift Group

The Northern Ireland Swift Group was founded in 2000 by 3 ‘swift enthusiasts’ who had all independently established Swift nesting colonies on their own houses. Thus Mark Smyth in Antrim, Brian Cahalane in Crumlin and Peter Cush in Belfast joined together to form the group. Our main aim was to try and address the issue of an apparent rapid decline in the numbers of breeding swifts in N Ireland. The cause of this is thought to be the loss of nest sites through redevelopment, repair and demolition of the buildings in which they make their nests.

There are now more than 50 people on the group email list and we have contacts in 13 European countries with experts who are involved in a wide range of swift conservation projects and research.

Breeding Swifts, once they have found, occupied and used a nest site, return to this same nest site year after year and research here in Northern Ireland has shown that nest sites in some buildings have been in continuous use by generations of swifts for over 100years! When buildings are redeveloped holes where swifts nest are often sealed leaving them without a place to breed. Sometimes whole colonies are lost because the buildings housing them are demolished. Over the past 40 to 50 years the decline in linen and other fabric manufacture in Northern Ireland has meant that many mills containing large swifts colonies have been demolished. Once a colony is lost we know that it does not relocate easily if at all. It is thought it can take many years for displaced swifts to find a new nest site. Research is continuing in this area (September 2011) and we will be reporting on this aspect of swift conservation soon.

We advise individuals, organizations, grant aiding bodies, businesses, local and central government and many others on how to save existing swift nest sites or create new nest sites in new buildings. As a result of us giving out information and advice many individuals across Northern Ireland now have erected swift nest boxes on their houses. Some examples of organizations we have worked with during the past 5 years are Translink, Tesco, various District Councils, the Crescent Arts Centre, various schools, DOE Planning Service and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) as well as many private individuals. We have also worked with the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and with NIEA on 2 major projects  viz. the renovation of the Crescent Arts Centre and reroofing and renovation of All Saints Church, Eglantine, Lisburn. We worked with the funding recipients , architects, project managers, consultants and contractors advising on how the projects could be carried out and phased, while ensuring the protection of nesting swifts which are fully protected throughout their breeding season. Swifts Apus apus are also a Northern Ireland Biodiversity Priority Species.  

Every year we offer to give talks to various groups e.g. RSPB and Councils on swifts and we help organize swift breeding surveys to establish where the main nesting sites are throughout Northern Ireland.

In the coming years we hope to continue to encourage as many people, businesses and organizations as possible to get involved in swift conservation projects by awareness raising, providing advice carrying out our own scientific research and getting directly involvement in projects were possible.