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Can swifts be persuaded back to parish church tower?

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HOPES are high that swifts will soon be nesting in the tower at St Elphin’s Parish Church, Warrington.
Members of Warrington Nature Conservation Forum (WNCF) installed nesting boxes at the church and at the Swift Tower at Centre Park late last year
Swifts spend most of the year in Africa but during the summer migrate to the UK to breed from May to September…
They nest inside cavities, mostly in traditional terraced housing estates, under the eaves of old houses and churches.
For many years, there used to be a colony of swifts breeding in St Elphin’s Church Tower but populations have fallen by 51 per cent in the UK between 1995 and 2015, swifts are now an amber-listed species and no longer nest in the tower.
Brian Martin, former chairman of the WNCF has been studying swifts for decades and has documented the changes across Warrington and Cheshire.
He said, “There are still colonies of swifts that can be seen across the town where older housing stock exists, Westy for example is a good place to see them. However, our survey results in the town confirm the national trend that their numbers have fallen.
“I have been looking at ways to reverse the downward trend by advising new house builders to design the eaves of houses to accommodate them. I have also tried to persuade people to stop blocking up existing nest entrances and encouraged others to mount swift boxes below the eaves of their houses. They are not too expensive, and you could put one below the eaves of your house.”
Mr Martin’s comprehensive records show there used to be a successful swift colony breeding in the St Elphin’s Church Tower several years ago.
He said “I contacted ornithologists Louise and Jim Bentley for their expertise in designing, constructing and installing boxes. They came to look at the site and confirmed that it was an excellent one with a high chance of establishing a colony.
With this positive news myself and Helen Lacy contacted the Rector, the Rev Paul Wilson, to get permission from members of the Parochial Church Council to permit the installation of the swift boxes. The Rector was very supportive, and I am pleased to announce that work to install swift boxes by Louise and Jim Bentley assisted by Les Jones of the Forum was carried out late last summer.” (pictured below)
In an attempt to entice the swifts to return, recordings of the birds are being played at the church and at Centre Park.
Mr Martin added: “There is no immediate guarantee, but it is hoped that we will be able to look up at the tower this summer and see the birds in action during our warm pleasant evenings, catching insects on the wing.”
WNCF chairman Geoff Settle said: “When I took over the chair 10 years ago, I considered myself so lucky as a rooky amateur to be able to draw from the expertise and knowledge of members like him and champion their work.”

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