Swift enthusiast hopes to set up local group in Buckingham

Gawcott woman Sue Hetherington is looking for like-minded people to help establish a group to champion these endangered summer visitors

Wednesday, 23rd June 2021, 10:47 am
Updated Wednesday, 23rd June 2021, 10:48 am

A Gawcott woman is hoping to set up a Buckingham Swift Group, in the run-up to Swift Awareness Week, which runs from July 3 to 11.

Sue Hetherington is a natural history enthusiast who's passionate about swifts, and she's hoping to find like-minded people to join a local group.

Swifts are summer visitors to the British Isles, staying for just three or four months each year, nesting in gaps high up on homes and in other buildings

Common swift

Sue told the Advertiser: "They are the last birds to return in summer and the first to go. And they will not touch down until they return to their nest sites the next summer.

"They spend their whole lives in the air, apart from nesting - the one thing they can’t do is lay eggs in the air! Everything else they do on the wing – feeding, sleeping, mating. When they sleep, they only shut down half a brain at a time.

"I think of them as fishes of the air, swimming in the great oceans of air, trawling for the tiny insects up there.

"They live quite a long time for such little birds - about 13 years - and are completely site loyal. So if that rotting fascia is repaired or that old house is demolished, that’s the end of them breeding - they won’t hunt around for a new site, which is probably not available anyway, unless there is a nestbox handily provided. That’s one of the factors causing the decline in numbers."

Sue Hetherington wants to set up a local Swift Group

She added: "We are lucky to have reasonable-sized colonies of swifts in both Buckingham and Gawcott, but this is not the picture nationally.

"The species is in decline and is listed on the British Trust for Ornithology’s 'amber' list, meaning it is a species of concern.

"It would be terrible if we lost them."

Sue is listed as the local expert for Buckingham on the Swift Conservation website, but as yet Buckingham does not have its own Swift Group - the nearest is in Milton Keynes - and Sue hopes other people might be interested in joining her to set one up.

Sue said: "July 3 to 11 has been designated Swift Awareness Week and, were it not for the Covid emergency, there would be events taking place all over the country.

"I myself would have organised a walk around Buckingham town to spot swifts and hopefully find where they are nesting."

As this cannot now take place due to Covid restrictions, Sue is asking members of the public to email her with their sightings, at [email protected]

"I am particularly wondering if any of our new builds around the town, such as St Rumbold’s Fields, had any swift box provision built in, and more importantly, if they are working, " she said. "I’d love to hear news, if anyone has any."