Wing and a prayer
Aldeburgh’s precious swifts at home in the church tower
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
Swift boxs on an Aldeburgh holiday home