Skip to main content
A Magazine for Sheffield

Swift conservation initiative in local S6 community

Local voluntary group S6 Swifts teamed up with Malin Bridge Primary School to install four crowdfunded swift nesting boxes to help reverse the population decline of this at-risk bird.

Children with swift nesting boxes at Malin Bridge Primary School

Swifts are arguably one of our most miraculous of birds; arriving here in May and then migrating in August, for many they symbolise the start of summer. Screeching in the sky, arrow-shaped wings darting from the cracks of stony roofs, so fast you might miss them. The Latin name for the common swift is “Apus Apus”, which means “without feet”, as they eat, sleep and even mate on the wing, only landing to nest and feed their young.

These birds have shared our buildings ever since the Romans came to Britain and the deforestation of these Isles started, moving them from nesting in the holes of trees to finding cracks, crevices, eaves and gables in our buildings. Sadly we are now losing this special bird and they’re rapidly becoming rarer and rarer to spot. Over the last 30 years they’ve lost their habitat due to more modern buildings and re-roofing and plugging cavities have left them with fewer spaces to nest. Their food has also declined as industrialised farming has wiped out a lot of the insects they rely on.

Melanie Savas and Laura Lian are passionate about swifts, both co-organise a volunteer-run scheme called S6 Swifts to supply and fit special swift nesting boxes on houses in Hillsborough and the surrounding S6 postcode area. Founded in the lockdown by three friends in 2021 and supported by the local community, S6 Swifts has helped facilitate over 200 new nest spaces in the area during the last nine months, ready for the amazing birds to complete their epic annual migration from Africa.

“We want people to feel proud of 'our swifts' and that, seemingly against all the odds, they choose to keep returning to our small corner of Sheffield each year," said Laura. “Each May, we see and hear their return, but we are hugely concerned about population decline.”

The Common Swift was added to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in December 2021 after it was reported that their numbers had fallen by 58% since 1995. Swifts return to the same nests to breed year after year, which are at risk of destruction due to soffit and roof replacements. The RSPB warns wildlife is in freefall with 70 of Britain’s 245 bird species now seriously at risk.

For many of the red-listed species, however, improving breeding success in the UK could be vital - finding ways to reimplement safe nesting spaces again could be a key factor in helping these birds return and continue to breed.

Malin Bridge Primary School

S6 Swifts, combined with local parents' and the local communities' generosity in Hillsborough, exceeded the goal of £250 to install four boxes onto the walls of Malin Bridge Primary School (with a box donated by the Sheffield Vulcan Rotary Club).

Councillor Henry Nottage, newly elected Green Councillor for Hillsborough ward, said:

I would like to offer a massive thanks to the school, the parents and everyone involved in the fundraising, supply and installation of the swift boxes. We are seeing a distressing level of species extinction at present which is catastrophic. We must do everything we can to prevent this decline which means not just protecting our wild spaces but making our urban areas a better habitat - and swift boxes are a great way of helping the species.

This kind of community-led action is a huge step towards keeping these magical birds in our summer skies. It is inspiring to see this kind of local engagement with local wildlife, a community connecting with each other to find solutions such as this.

At this time of year, when everything is erupting with life, it is a great time to take a moment to look around us and appreciate the amount of wildlife we have bobbing and weaving around us, but it is also a gentle reminder that it needs protecting and preserving more than ever.

Local conservation efforts and connecting with community groups such as S6 Swifts is a powerful way to improve the habitat of our local wildlife. Let’s hope these familiar visitors, who return every year from their adventures and bring such joy to many, keep coming back to our corners of Sheffield.

Learn more

For more information about how to get a swift box for your property contact your local swift group, details for which can be found at wildsheffield.com/swifts.

Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust are also celebrating this incredible bird and the people taking action to help it by hosting the area’s first ever Swift Summit from 7pm on Thursday 7 July. The event will be held at Sheffield Hallam University’s Pennine Theatre, chaired by the Trust’s Chief Executive Liz Ballard and will feature author of Swifts and Us and special guest speaker Sarah Gibson.

More Democracy & Activism

Climate action must be something we all have a stake in

Too often, earth-shaking decisions on how to build a post-carbon future are the preserve of the few. It’s well past time that the voices of the majority were heard on climate issues, writes Sheffield Hallam MP Olivia Blake.

More Democracy & Activism