Helping Islington's swifts through nest boxes, awareness and advice.

RSPB swift survey reminder as swifts numbers rise, 17/05/19

Just a quick reminder that you can record either known nest sites (i.e. where you’ve seen a swift disappear into a hole in a building, that’s the best evidence you’re likely to get!), or swifts flying at roof level so they are likely to be nesting nearby, on the RSPB swift survey website.

You can let us know too through our contact page if it’s in north London; we might be slow to reply but we will note your record!

There is a new swift mapper app we will be testing out soon!

Numbers are building steadily now as it’s getting warmer, we think most nesting adults are back now? The “teenagers” will start to come back in a week or two.

Anything urgent like nest sites in danger or grounded swifts, you can also check for advice.


Swifts return to Islington, 03/05/19

Since 1st May the first 2019 sightings of swifts in Islington have been coming in – on the 1st, birds were seen high over Leconfield Road in Mildmay, and Green Lanes, apparently powering through and not lingering. The 2nd May brought more sightings high over Green Lanes, and by the morning of the 3rd a flock of 11+ was seen circling over Crouch Hill station, appearing to intend to stay.

This follows on from an increasing number of sightings on the outskirts of London for the previous week, including a “leucistic” partly white-plumaged bird over Wembley seen by @magnusphotog on the 25th April.

There was a strong upsurge of records across SE England on the 1st May suggesting favourable weather patterns were bringing about this early influx.

5-6th May remains the predicted date for the swifts to return to the streets of Islington, and certainly a much earlier arrival than the exceptionally late mid-May of 2018. As swifts do not spend the winter with their mates, this synchronised arrival probably avoids any “misunderstandings” as the swifts return to their regular nest sites (which they will use for their whole 20-year lifetime if they possibly can).

A reminder that the first UK sighting in 2019 was way back on 27th March at Portland Bill, clearly a very lost swift!

Let us know if any roof level birds reach you on the 6th or earlier? These can also be reported on the RSPB Swift Survey website.

April newsletter & details of swifts call systems, 20/04/19

Hi friends of Islington & De Beauvoir Swifts

Here is our April update, only 3 weeks or so now until the swifts arrive – due 5-6th May in north London. Last year many were 1-2 weeks late, probably due to exceptionally bad weather in southern Europe, but more often than not they’ll arrive in our area on those dates.

As usual we are also covering De Beauvoir in Hackney – residents there can also keep up to date with Hackney Swifts Group on Twitter at @hackney_swifts.

Several of you have been asking about the swifts call systems – I have including some details and operating instructions for that below.

We’ve had a busy spring with one event already, the Islington In Bloom launch at Whittington Park for our second year, alongside the park rangers and Octopus. It was glorious weather again and plenty of interest.

We also gave talks to The Enfield Society and the Friends of Gillespie Park AGM, and we’ve been advising on an exciting development by Countryside Properties at New Avenue Estate in Southgate, Enfield, which has 42 swifts nesting bricks in just two buildings – a UK record as far as we know and setting the standard for what can be achieved.

We’ve also installed another 25 boxes since Feb between Kentish Town/ Tufnell Park in the west to Mildmay in the east, and advised residents on a few more they’ve been able to install themselves. There are now over 100 boxes & bricks in Islington that we know about (109 to be exact), which is a great start but many more needed. Hackney has at least 150 (40 in De Beauvoir alone…) so it would be nice to catch up!

If you are interested in boxes let us know and we will check if your home is suitable, but advance warning that there is a waiting list, both for our installers and to get hold of the best value swifts boxes that John Stimpson makes in his garage… But if we’re passing by we might be able to install quickly, so it’s worth getting in touch.

If you are having work done on your house, or know anyone who is, we can also advise on a swift-friendly refurbishment. Very easy to do and a few pieces of plywood is the only additional cost.

Swifts call systems:

Those of you with nestboxes already might be interested in swifts calls systems – these can make a big difference to how quickly the swifts find your box. Even playing the calls occasionally from a mobile phone is worthwhile, but a more permanent solution is to play the calls using a timer plug and small amp, and a tweeter speaker somewhere in or near the box, or even at ground level beneath the box has been shown to work.

We have to admit we’re a little behind… so apologies for this! Real life has been getting in the way… swifts HQ has moved home & other unavoidable commitments… We’ve also had a serious problem obtaining the “amps”, which are basically a car radio with a slot for a USB or SD card. There are very few suppliers of these, and my order has not arrived after six weeks! So I am currently working on plan B…

Please send me a reply if:

· I offered to lend you a swifts call system, then please remind me!

· If you would like to obtain a call system from me please let me know – I will source the equipment and help set this up for all who want one, if I possibly can! We’re currently providing this for £25 (which is cheaper than cost price), subject to availability.

· If you plan to set up your own call system then let me know and I may be able to advise.

We usually advise to start playing the calls on 1st May as it’s an easy date to remember, but actually the most intense swifts call season is from June-July as that is when the juveniles arrive and that’s when you will really get some attention to your nestbox – swifts are the only UK bird that is generally looking for somewhere to nest next year. It’s always worth running the call in May if you can, though, as an adult pair displaced from their regular nest site could take up residence.

Whether you intend to set up your own system or not, it’s worth looking at the following to get an idea of what is involved, but I can reassure you it is much simpler than it first looks!

· Action for Swifts (good overall summary):


· Swift Conservation (some additional details):



Away from swifts calls systems,

· we are attending the Olden Garden event on 28th April so maybe see you there.

· Swifts awareness week is 22-30th June, details of events to be confirmed.

· We will be assisting David Lindo’s London Wildlife Festival at Walthamstow Wetlands on 9-11th August.

And why not sign the petition to protect the nest sites of swifts, swallows & martins if you haven’t already! Would be great to reach 100,000.


All the best,


Islington Swifts Group

Twitter: @islingt_swifts



· You can adapt the following to what seems to work and/ or what doesn’t disturb your neighbours.

· Setting your time (or manually) play the calls for approximately 90 minutes from dawn and before dusk, perhaps 6:30-8am and 7:30-9pm initially.

· If you need to operate it less regularly, or take a break for a holiday etc., then that’s OK.

· Choose the maximum volume that doesn’t disturb your neighbours, the volume of an actual swift is a good rule-of-thumb.

· Remember the swifts are likely to be investigating for next year, so even a close fly past is success.

· Keep playing the calls, even if you are lucky enough to have nesting activity – the advice from Action for Swifts is to keep on playing for at least a couple of years.

· Let me know how you are getting on! And if you need any tips – adjusting the location of the calls in particular can make a difference.


· If you are using an amp, as with all electrical equipment bear in mind that the amp and power supply will get warm so don’t cover them.

· The amp should stay indoors.

· The speakers/ connectors/ cables can all be outside, but it’s probably a good idea to protect the speaker from the worst of the rain just to stop it getting damaged – you can put it inside a plastic bag, for example.

100+ swifts boxes in Islington, 11/04/19

After eight more boxes were installed in Islington at the weekend in Crouch Hill and Highbury, the number we know about in the Borough (including swifts bricks) is up to 107 – approximately half of these co-ordinated by us and the other half by residents, the Council and developers.

Not bad considering there were fewer than 40 bricks & boxes (that we know about) a couple of years ago.

It’s a great start but many more boxes needed to halt the decline.

At least two (in Mildmay ward) have confirmed nesting swifts and more may do as there has been swifts activity seen around them – let’s hope for more confirmed nesting swifts this year!

Expected return date is 5-6th May.

If you are interested in boxes, or you know of existing nest sites especially any threatened by building work, please contact us through the website.

Swift seen in UK, 27/03/19

The first swift of 2019 that we know of has been seen in the UK, over Portland Bill in Dorset on the 27th March.

This is very unlikely to be a sign of an early arrival overall – a bird was seen at a similar date over Ally Pally a couple of years ago but the rest of the swifts arrived on their usual dates (5-6th May in north London).

More likely is that this bird was heading to southern Europe and got a little lost – it will no doubt head back once it realises its mistake (and experiences first hand why swifts avoid a UK April!).

The hardier swallows and martins are starting to arrive now and they will stick around.

Islington In Bloom event, 30/03/19

We’ll be joining the Islington In Bloom launch event again this year, 30/03/19 in Whittington Park from 11-3. We’ll be helping the Council park rangers make nestboxes. Feel free to drop by, we’ll be somewhere near the tennis courts.

Thanks to The Enfield Society, and Friends of Gillespie Park, for inviting us to speak to them about urban biodiversity this week. Both very enjoyable events.

Islington Swifts Group e-newsletter, 04/02/19

Dear friend of Islington Swifts

Apologies it has been a long time since the last update, we have been very busy (more of which below).

We write now as there is an opportunity to meet up with Hackney Swifts Group this week on Wednesday 6th February at the Elderfield pub, Elderfield Road in Homerton, E5 0LF, from 7pm. We are meeting for a chat on our projects and plans for the year ahead – all welcome but please just drop me an email if you are thinking of attending.

Below is a quick summary of the projects that we have been working on, including a few in De Beauvoir, Hackney, where we contribute as we happen to be based geographically closest to this area.

Perhaps the most important long-term news is that Islington Council’s draft Local Plan 2020-2035 includes proposals to require artificial habitats (e.g. nesting bricks) for swifts and other wildlife in all suitable new developments; this section was well written in our opinion and we only commented to say we approved. We look forward to this becoming a live document in a year’s time – the consultation is closed but here is the link if you want to read (in particular clause 5.27, page 153, of the “Islington Local Plan Strategic and development management policies” document):

The draft London Plan (the equivalent London-wide document) was also amended recently following consultation to state that Boroughs should require “features such as artificial nest sites” in developments, and Hackney’s draft Local Plan also includes measures for swifts, so some positive policy news.

Another important consultation we are responding to is the DEFRA biodiversity net gain consultation, comments are still possible until 10/02/19:

A quick reminder:

· It’s not too late to record your summer’s swifts sightings on the RSPB swift survey – if they are general summer records just list a date of 21/06/18. Either low flying swifts or nests are valuable to know; this database is useful for planners but there is very limited data at the moment –

· If you wish to have a swifts nestbox or two installed on your home, let us know. We’ll let you know if it’s suitable. There is a small charge but well below market rates, currently only £30 per nestbox including installation. There is a waiting list at the moment, but we should be able to install before the swifts return in May.

· Swifts Awareness Week 2019 will be 22-30th June – details of events to be confirmed!!

All the best,


Islington Swifts Group

Twitter: @islingt_swifts

Islington & De Beauvoir projects:

· Comments on draft Islington Local Plan (approved of G4 Biodiversity section)

· Comments on draft Hackney Local Plan (already included a strong requirements for swifts bricks, some adjustments requested such as a reduction in minimum height from 7m to 5m).

· Advice on planning applications – Islington and Hackney have included requirements for at least 100 swifts bricks or boxes in planning conditions over the last year or so, as well as other measures for biodiversity.

· More nestboxes installed this winter in Islington & Hackney: Highbury, Mildmay/ Dalston, Hackney Downs, Stoke Newington, and De Beauvoir. The total swifts bricks & boxes are now at least 76 in Islington and at least 146 in Hackney, of which 87 have been installed by our guys, we are very grateful for their efforts – still just a small fraction of the number needed though…

· More nestboxes to be installed soon.

· Advice for a further two nestboxes in Mildmay to be installed this month, and two proposed on the Gillespie Park ecology centre north façade by spring.

· Advice to The Benyon Estate in De Beauvoir on external boxes (five already installed), swift-friendly renovations (two already undertaken), and new-build developments.

Further afield:

· DEFRA biodiversity net gain consultation response, following responses to the planning/ farming consultations last year.

· Upcoming talk at The Enfield Society on Tuesday 26th March, and also advice at a site in Enfield where provision is being made to re-home a colony of 20+ pairs of swifts currently in a 1960s building to be demolished.

· Assisting Swift Conservation at the Listed Building Show at Olympia, 9-10/02/19.

· Swifts boxes to be installed on 6-7 homes in the NW5 area (Camden).

· Assisting Swift Conservation at David Lindo’s London Wildlife Festival, Walthamstow Wetlands, 9-11/08/19.

New development including swifts bricks proposed on Hornsey Road, 02/02/19

Another significant new development going through planning, ref. P2018/4131/FUL, at the “Site of Harvist Under Fives, Hornsey Road, London N7 7NN”, for a 5-storey building to provide “a children’s nursery at ground floor level and 26 self-contained residential units” (deadline for comments is midnight this Sunday 3rd February).

This time the developer has pro-actively referred to swifts bricks, bat bricks, and living roofs in their application (in the Sustainability Addendum to the Energy Report), which is great news! And something we are seeing increasingly often.

But it’s important that these items get enshrined in the planning conditions so that they cannot be dropped from the design later on.

We have already commented to request this, but feel free to add your voice if you wish –

even just asking to “include biodiversity measures in accordance with Islington’s Biodiversity Action Plan, such as swifts bricks” would be very valuable and show the public’s interest.

Proposed development in N7, ask for biodiversity measures!?

There’s a huge new development of 96 dwellings proposed on the former Territorial Army site on Parkhurst Road N7, you can comment until 27/01/19 so why not submit a comment? Perhaps ask for best practice biodiversity measures in accordance with Islington Council’s Biodiversity Action Plan, including nesting bricks for swifts!?

Its reference is P2018/4197/FUL,
here’s a link to see the proposals and make a comment:

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