Swiftly, swiftly, join the sur­vey

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country -

AHOW time flies… Once more, swifts are start­ing to make their re­turn to the UK for sum­mer af­ter an epic 6,000-mile jour­ney—some of th­ese in­trigu­ing mi­grants will not have touched down for up to three years, as they eat, sleep and breed on the wing. How­ever, the RSPB, whose an­nual Swift Sur­vey was in­sti­gated in 2009, is alarmed to note that, na­tion­ally, their num­bers have de­clined by 47% since 1995. ‘We don’t know the ex­act cause—it could be a va­ri­ety of is­sues along their mi­gra­tion route, in­clud­ing not enough in­sects to eat or cli­mate change—but we be­lieve loss of nest sites in the UK is at least partly re­spon­si­ble,’ says the RSPB’S Re­becca Pit­man, who warns that, if we don’t change our build­ing habits, swifts will cease breed­ing here. ‘It’s im­por­tant to record lo­ca­tions of swift nest sites, as this in­for­ma­tion can then be used by lo­cal author­ity plan­ners, ar­chi­tects, ecol­o­gists and de­vel­op­ers to find out where swift hotspots are and there­fore mit­i­gate to pro­tect breed­ing birds dur­ing de­vel­op­ment.’ Look out for swifts this month and send your sight­ings to www.rspb. org.uk/swift­sur­vey, which gives in­for­ma­tion on how to spot them. For ex­am­ple, it’s best to lookaround dusk on a warm evening or early in the morn­ing. And watch out for scream­ing groups fly­ing at roof-height; this may mean that they are breed­ing nearby. CEN­TRE that re­homes un­wanted moor­land-bred Ex­moor pony foals des­per­ately needs to raise £20,000 to stay open. Since 2006, the Ex­moor Pony Cen­tre at Dul­ver­ton, Som­er­set, op­er­ated by the Moor­land Mousie Trust, has re­homed more than 300 foals that might oth­er­wise have been sent to slaugh­ter—they’ve be­come chil­dren’s rid­ing ponies or been used for con­ser­va­tion graz­ing—but ris­ing costs and de­creas­ing rev­enue mean that the cen­tre, which has had 50,000-plus vis­i­tors and of­fers rid­ing and ed­u­ca­tional ac­tiv­i­ties, could close this sum­mer.

The trust, founded in 2000 by Val Sher­win, is named af­ter the 1929 chil­dren’s story by ‘Golden Gorse’ (Muriel Wace)—it’s a favourite of the char­ity’s pa­tron, The Duchess of Corn­wall—about a pony called Mousie. The 11 pri­vately owned herds of ponies, plus two started by the na­tional park, are a totemic sight for Ex­moor along with its red deer. As­sid­u­ous work goes into main­tain­ing their pu­rity and uni­for­mity of mark­ings, an in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult task with na­tive ponies gen­uinely bred in the wild— the Ex­moor is clas­si­fied as en­dan­gered and de­clin­ing in the Rare Breeds Sur­vival Trust’s re­cent watch­list (Town & Coun­try, April 12). To do­nate, visit www. crowd­fun­der.co.uk/save-the-ex­moor-pony-cen­tre KG

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