A life on the wing - a Bexhill Museum lecture on the frenetic life of the swift


Bexhill Museum was very privileged to have as lecturer on 19th March 2014, Edward Mayer, founder of Swift Conservation, whose slogan is “Keeping the Skies Alive”.

Those who have experienced the sound in high summer of these aerial acrobats wheeling and diving in the sky will appreciate Mr Mayer’s enthusiasm.

The plight of the swift, whose numbers have declined so drastically, was graphically shown in the excellent presentation.

This brought home the difficulties that beset this fascinating and unusual bird. Although associated with swallows and martins, who also visit Europe to breed in the summer, the swift is not part of this group and its mode of life is certainly stranger.

Arriving in the UK later and leaving earlier, the one brood raised spends longer in the nest until it is mature enough to fly back to Africa immediately in August.

This amazing bird lives on the wing at all times – to land on the ground or in water is certain death, its short legs being only capable for perching. Originally a hole-nesting bird in ancient forests, this summer migrant gradually took to eaves of buildings.

A recent decline of nesting sites is mainly due to the re-roofing and insulation of older buildings in towns. The long-lived bird returns to its nesting site year after year, so loss of this spells disaster. Nestlings are protected but there is no legal duty to survey before work or demolition commences. As vast quantities of mosquitoes, flies and aphids are consumed by the swift it is a truly useful bird. The aim of Swift Conservation is to encourage councils and developers to incorporate a variety of next boxes and wall insets high on buildings during construction where possible. Many examples of such co-operation were shown. Bexhill has its own in Baird Court, a modern block which replaced a Victorian building where swifts regularly nested. Everything must be done to bring back these summer masters of the air.

Councillor Stuart Earl will be the speaker at St. Augustine’s on 2nd April 2012 at 2.30, when he will recount The History of Earl’s Bakery. Visitors are welcome, £4.00 to include refreshments.