Wing and a prayer

Aldeburgh’s pre­cious swifts at home in the church tower

EADT Suffolk - - Inside - WORDS: Re­becca McPhie

Aldeburgh is one of Suffolk’s best known coastal towns, at­tract­ing hol­i­day mak­ers and day trip­pers in their droves, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing the sum­mer. They come to dis­cover the famed shin­gle beaches and the wild and won­der­ful marshes, to stroll along the high street, browse the shops and gal­leries, to en­joy a drink and a bite to eat. But for some sea­sonal vis­i­tors, the swifts that re­turn ev­ery year, it’s the town’s dis­tinc­tive and his­toric ar­chi­tec­ture that’s the main at­trac­tion – the par­ish church, the Moot Hall and the 60-plus listed build­ings.

A few decades ago swifts were a com­mon sight in sum­mer, soaring, dip­ping and dart­ing in the sky as they hunted for in­sects. But pop­u­la­tions have de­clined so rapidly in re­cent years that they are now en­dan­gered. If that de­cline con­tin­ues at its cur­rent rate, the UK’s swift pop­u­la­tion will be ex­tinct in just 30 years.

In­ten­sive mod­ern farm­ing meth­ods, par­tic­u­larly the use of in­sec­ti­cides through­out the UK and Europe, have dam­aged their food source, and in our de­sire to mod­ernise and in­su­late our prop­er­ties we have in­ad­ver­tently blocked up nest­ing holes. So far, so bleak.

But all is not lost. Spear­headed by Aldeburgh res­i­dents Alan Col­lett and his wife, Chris­tine, Aldeburgh’s Amaz­ing Swifts has been cre­ated to pub­li­cise the swifts’ de­cline and raise aware­ness of how peo­ple can help the lit­tle bird. “Since we started the con­ser­va­tion project, in May 2017, we have en­gaged with many res­i­dents and lo­cal builders to raise aware­ness of how to halt the swifts’ de­cline,” says Alan.

“We have now in­stalled nearly 60 swift boxes through­out the town, which is many more than our orig­i­nal tar­get, and there is a street map and in­for­ma­tion board in the library to show where they have been in­stalled.” Lo­cal busi­nesses and home­own­ers are also help­ing by dis­play­ing flags and ban­ners.

Let­tings agency Suffolk Se­crets, which has an of­fice in the high street, has helped to fi­nance more swift boxes in­clud­ing three in the par­ish church bel­fry, which will be wired to a cam­era to en­able live screen­ing of the swifts, should they suc­cess­fully nest in years to come. Ge­orge Bradley, Suffolk Se­crets gen­eral man­ager, said as soon as he heard about Alan’s cam­paign, he had to get in­volved.

“Over the past two years, our Suffolk Se­crets AONB fund has con­trib­uted over £25,000 to lo­cal en­vi­ron­men­tal, cul­tural, ed­u­ca­tional and con­ser­va­tion groups of which Aldeburgh’s Amaz­ing Swifts are one. Over the course of this year and early next, we’re hop­ing that evwen more of our home­own­ers will put up a swift box on their prop­er­ties.”

So suc­cess­ful has the Aldeburgh’s Amaz­ing Swift ini­tia­tive been that the next stage of the project is to spread the word be­yond the town and en­cour­age the rest of Suffolk – and fur­ther afield – to put up swift boxes on their homes. Alan and Chris­tine will be man­ning stalls dur­ing UK Swift Aware­ness Week, June 16-23, in Aldeburgh and Snape Malt­ings dur­ing the Aldeburgh Fes­ti­val.

Alan has also writ­ten a chil­dren’s book, called Storm, The Story of Aldeburgh’s Amaz­ing Swift, to fur­ther raise aware­ness. Copies are avail­able for a small do­na­tion in the Aldeburgh Book Shop and in the Suffolk Se­crets’ Aldeburgh of­fice.

Swifts are known to be very vo­cal lit­tle birds, but it seems only fair that Alan should have the last word on such an in­spir­ing lo­cal con­ser­va­tion story.

“A sin­cere and heart­felt thanks to ev­ery­body who has put up a swift box on their Aldeburgh home so far and we en­cour­age any­one want­ing to help with fu­ture con­ser­va­tion ef­forts to be mind­ful of swifts when do­ing house re­pairs or, even bet­ter, to put up their own swift box,” he says. “Suffolk is al­ready at the fore­front of con­ser­va­tion ef­forts with groups such as Ac­tion for Swifts, and Save our Suffolk Swifts, help­ing to halt the de­cline in the swift pop­u­la­tion and this is some­thing that we can be re­ally proud of.”

LEFT: Sally Owen, brand man­ager at Suffolk Se­crets, Al­lan and Chris­tine Col­lett, form Aldeburgh’s Amaz­ing Swifts

BE­LOW LEFT:

Swift boxs on an Aldeburgh hol­i­day home

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