From community groups and charities to businesses and schools, we believe that everyone has a role to play in helping nature recovery across Greater Manchester. We’ll be shining a spotlight on the passionate individuals who are already leading the way – our Local Nature Champions.
Louise Bentley is founder and volunteer at Bolton and Bury Swifts.
Tell us about your project.
We are urgently trying to save the nest sites of Swifts and House Martins. They are stunning migratory birds that nest on houses (not in trees) and return faithfully each summer to the same place, after an exhausting 16000-mile journey. They are prolific consumers of insects and provide an ecosystem service. The aerial displays of Swifts easily rival a Red Arrows show, and House Martins too are delightful to watch. Both birds have been part of the fabric of summer for centuries, the thrilling calls of the Swifts and chatter of Martins keeping our urban skies alive.
Our project aims to ensure they are not lost, raising awareness of their needs, how our actions are affecting them, endeavouring to save existing colonies and create new ones. This involves working with Housing Associations and Local Councils involved in large scale roofing renovations, also Planning Departments and Developers, by requesting the inclusion of swift bird bricks in new builds. I am also a specialist rehabilitator of Swifts and Hirundines, who occasionally fall from their nests, they require very specific care and diet, this is not to be undertaken lightly but the satisfaction of releasing them to begin their maiden African voyage is a joy.
How did you first get involved in nature recovery?
I felt very disheartened by the destruction of natural habitats both locally and globally, coming to realise the only way to deal with this sense of loss was to take some form of positive action. Inspired by others trying to save Swift nest sites in the south, I realised no one in Greater Manchester was addressing the issue. I could no longer stand by and let their decline go unnoticed, knowing there are ways we can help.
In 2015 I formed Bolton and Bury Swifts – for several years I acted as a lone voice, advocating for the protection of colonies on social housing estates and asking for provision in new builds. Slowly Bolton and Bury Swifts has grown into an active group; we are trying to find and record all local nest sites, making and installing Swift Boxes and Martin Bowls locally, raising awareness by giving talks to a variety of groups and organisations, including schools.
What do you think nature offers Greater Manchester?
Nature has a place alongside us even in the most urban of areas, where we have ousted species, they will try to sneak back in, it’s not our place to stop nature in it’s tracks but rather to recognise we are part of the natural world, we need it on our lives, and it provides us with great benefits.
The focus of our group to raise awareness that buildings are habitat! Many species: Swifts, House Sparrows, House Martins (the clue is in the name!), Starlings, Bats and Bees have lived alongside us for centuries. We have long since cleared many of our ancient forests, but they found new opportunities, instead roosting and breeding in the buildings we erected. We have co-existed for a long time with these species, however, we are now sealing them out completely with new building materials and hastening their declines. Loss of nest spaces is believed to be the foremost cause for the decline of Swifts. Green and blue spaces across the region are vital BUT buildings, particularly roof spaces are valuable habitat. If we seal them then we need to provide boxes to recreate that habitat. We desperately need all new builds to incorporate space for nature within their design. Swift bricks provide accommodation for a range of small bird species and appear to be the preferred choice for House Sparrows, they are a universal nest brick, that we could easily provide.
Why do you think it’s important more people get involved in nature?
Our greenspaces, our gardens, our buildings, our streets are all places where people can provide space for nature to live and to thrive. Wherever we are we can help the natural world, we can benefit from seeing the rewards of our efforts, we can raise the alarm when harm is being done. Bringing back nature means many voices are required and practical actions by individuals are crucial but organisations large and small have a big role to play too.
People can help protect Swifts and House Martins by being alert to where they nest locally. Roofing renovations are causing nest sites to be lost and Swifts are strongly faithful to their nests and can spend weeks in vain trying to access a hole that may have been inadvertently blocked. Swifts are hole nesters and do not build a mud nest like House Martins. But Martins too can complete their long migration only to return and find their mud nests taken down or destroyed. Spread the word that these birds are migratory, our roof spaces are everything to them, the very reason they embark on their long and often treacherous journey, is to breed there. Respect them, enjoy them, give them a home on your building!
What do you think is the single greatest priority for nature recovery in Greater Manchester?
Protecting existing habitats for example, wetland, grassland, ancient woodland from development, respecting the value of nature. It is much easier to avoid destroying a habitat than creating a new one. Knowing and protecting what we have then trying to expand upon it. Knowing when we host important colonies of Swifts and Martins on our buildings and ensuring our actions don’t close off their nest sites and push them further to local extinction.
And if time and resources weren’t an issue, how would you address that priority?
By showing everyone how to identify Swifts, Swallows and Martins, so they too can appreciate their beauty and experience the thrill of seeing your first Swift, Swallow or Martin arriving back in the country. Teaching them to identify the shrill like call of the Swift so they can enjoy the sound of summer and feel the connection to the natural world, that is there for everyone of us to enjoy, if only we knew!
By speaking to every Ecologist, Architect, Developer, Housing Association, Town Planner, Housing Department, and Roofer in Greater Manchester; asking them to protect and retain existing Swift and House Martin nest sites and to condition and include Swift Bricks in new developments. Swift bricks are a universal bird brick suiting several red list birds, particularly House Sparrows.
By surveying and recording Swift and House Martin colonies across Greater Manchester, asking nature lovers to do the same. Asking businesses, homeowners, and local authorities to erect boxes on their buildings giving homes to a range of building dependent species. There’s lot of positive things we can do – Swifts are a bird we can help!
How can people get involved in your project?
There are loads of ways people can get involved in helping Swifts and House Martins, including:
- Put up a Swift Box under the eaves (wherever you are), 5 metres high and with a clear flight path to the box.
- If House Martins nest locally; put up an artificial nest bowl for them, sourced from Peak Boxes.
- Learn how to identify the 3 species; https://www.bto.org/develop-your-skills/bird-identification/videos/bto-bird-id-hirundines-and-swift
- In summer; note where Swifts and House Martins nest, record colonies with Greater Manchester Local Record Centre, for Swifts you can also use the RSPB’s Swift Mapper App.
- For nests on commercial buildings or homes managed by a Council or Housing Association, please do let them know too. Ask them to flag the colony with their sustainability officer and maintenance teams so any works can be done sympathetically and include mitigation.
- Ask the council and house builders for Swift Bricks to be included on any new developments locally.
Or you can get in touch by emailing me directly at email@example.com or calling 07557796508 for further advice or information.
Find out more about our plan for nature recovery
Greater Manchester is currently developing its Local Nature Recovery Strategy, which will set out a blueprint for a more liveable city-region, with fairer access to green space for all.Find out more including ways to get involved on our nature recovery webpage.