The Swift Brick Debate: Time for YOU to take action!

A red brick wall with a grey square made of concrete or a similar material screwed into it. The square has an long, narrow hole cut into it from which the small face of a swift peers.
Swift peering out of nesting brick on the side of a new build house, Fulbourn, Cambridgeshire (Ben Andrews, rspb-images.com)
(by Rebecca Gindin-Clarke)

On 10 July the government debated the petition Make swift bricks compulsory in new housing to help red-listed birds, a proposal which would have slowed the rapid decline of swifts, house sparrows, house martins and starlings by requiring low-cost, zero-maintenance ‘swift bricks’ in new housing. 109,894 people signed the petition in six months.

Environmental activist Hannah Bourne-Taylor, who started the petition, stated:

The swift is an urban bird that comes right into your own territory and shares it and brings infectious joy. This is the perfect policy. It exists, it’s proven to work and there are no real cost implications. This is arguably the most simple and cost-effective environmental and biodiversity measure in existence. We can help these birds that have existed for 65m years with a brick, and in return they will scream in delight.

Despite unanimous cross-party support from Labour, Green, LibDem and Tory MPs, who argued that the initiative would be inexpensive, simple to incorporate and is proven to work, our government stuck to its usual pattern of hostility towards our environment even in the midst of a climate emergency, stating that they preferred to leave it up to local authorities.

This is despite the fact that (according to the briefing put together by Hannah-Bourne Taylor)

  • Local Authorities often have no resource to check developers have implemented the swift bricks in their buildings.
  • Despite extensive guidelines, many ecologists are still unaware of the need for swift bricks, especially since none of the birds swift bricks cater for are protected species which means that many ecologists don’t know about these species’ needs.
  • Despite swift brick options on the market, many developers aren’t aware of this option as a measure.

This means it’s up to us to save the birds

This debate garnered an enormous amount of political and public support, as well as media attention and discussion; it also reiterated once more that it’s up to us to continue to pressure our councils locally. 

Please take just a few minutes to contact your local councillors. Ask them to introduce and approve of swift bricks in all new developments. Eight councils across the UK have already approved the measure, including Brighton & Hove, and still more are being pressured by their constituents.

Swift coming in to land in small openings on the side of a red brick building.
Swift coming in to land in nesting bricks (Photo: Ben Andrews, rspb-images.com)

Let’s make it happen here!

Not sure who your local councillors are or how to contact them? NIDirect provides a full list of the council websites. From each site, you can find a list of your local councillors and their contact information. (You may need to click through a few pages to find their email addresses; phone numbers are also available if you’d prefer to contact them that way). For example:

Please remember to be polite and include your address so that they know you are in their constituency!

A few things to note when contacting your councillors:

View of a pinkish-beige peaked roof against a blue sky. Lined up along the eves are the four small holes installed as swift bricks.
Swift bricks on the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast (Photo: Elaine Huey)

Every spring, swifts migrate 6000 miles to Northern Ireland from their winter grounds in Africa to breed. Since 1995, their numbers have dropped at least 62%. One major reason for this decline is a loss of traditional nest sites. In the past, they nested in the cracks, crevices and eaves of homes and buildings like linen mills, but newer constructions are less habitable. Only 0.5% of the houses built since 2000 provide the shelter they need.

Buildings of any kind, including new buildings, can provide swift nesting sites, either via nest boxes or built-in swift bricks such as those at the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast. The RSPB also encourages swift activists to remind council planning departments ‘of their obligations to protect and promote biodiversity in the built environment.’

Swift boxes are low cost, proven to work and require zero maintenance. The birds do not make noise while on the nest, eliminating concerns about disturbing homeowners, and they leave no mess. The bricks fit flush with the rest of the structure and do not compromise its appearance. One of several options for swift bricks is Barratt Developments, who, in collaboration with the RSPB, not only produces the bricks but provides information to builders as to how to install them.

[…]

The UK has lost more biodiversity than any G7 country, and is in the worst global 10%. Northern Ireland is ranked the 12th worst in the world for biodiversity loss. Swift bricks are a proven, cost-effective and very simple way to make a big difference for four of our red-listed species: swifts, house sparrows, house martins and starlings.

Helping Swifts in Northern Ireland: What YOU Can Do

It is up to us to save these birds! Let’s get a flood of messages sent to our local councils!

Seven dark swifts in flight against a pale blue and pink sky at dusk.
Without our help, a sight like this may be nothing but a distant memory in the very near future. (Photo: Elaine Huey)

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