Swiftly, swiftly, join the survey
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