Swift Breakfast, Antrim

Antrim Borough Council has been working with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, RSPB Antrim Local Group to raise the profile of the Swift, whose numbers have declined significantly in recent times, and which has been named as its Bird of the Borough.

A number of Swift projects have been undertaken in the borough, with the involvement of different groups and individuals, including the RSPB Antrim Local Group, schools, Greenmount College, Clotworthy House, N.I. Swift Group and Antrim Library.

The latter was the venue for the Swift Breakfast on Wednesday 15th May 2013.

A pleasingly diverse number of people turned up, including 2 Swift fans, who had flown over from Manchester, after reading about the event on a Swift blog!  Among others present were Danny Kinahan (M.L.A), Ken Boston, Director of the Ulster University Building Surveying Department, James Robinson, Director RSPB Northern Ireland, Biodiversity Officers from Antrim and Newtownabbey Councils, a representative from Action Mental Health, 2 architects, 2 members of a local church due for redevelopment and RSPB Staff and Antrim Local Group members. This eclectic gathering illustrates the growing interest in and importance of the swift.

Michael Laverty, Antrim Borough Council chaired the discussion and introduced speakers, the first of whom was Roy Thompson, Mayor of Antrim who summarised the activities to date aimed at promoting the swift in the borough. RSPB Antrim Local Group member, Kate McAllister, gave a resume of the importance of actions to safeguard swifts.  Antrim Library had been chosen as the venue for the meeting because of swift bricks incorporated into the building by JNP Architects and their Dermot O'Hagan outlined the steps taken from initial discussion to completion of the building, with the bricks in situ; he explained how the legal requirements to cater for nature can result in cost savings.

An example of how existing buildings can continue to attract swifts to build nests was given by John Herron, a member of Straid Congregational Church.  John mused how swifts make better tenants than their somewhat messy and noisy neighbours, starlings!

Brian Cahalane, member of the Northern Ireland Swift Group, described the installation of Swift nest boxes at Randox Laboratories, and illustrated how the local, infamous, very extensive fly population at Lough Neagh is attractive to the birds, if not humans! He also has several boxes and callers in his own premises, and when asked if neighbours complain about the noise from the callers, he said no. Brian showed a picture of a Swift nesting pole fitted with callers, a design which has been developed by Stoneyford Engineering and installed in a local school playground to test its viability. There may be potential to export this to the U.S.A to house Purple Martins, a highly sought after bird!

The final speaker, Peter Cush from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, summarised the need to be aware of the significance to humans of nature in general and the swift in particular.  He finished on the perhaps pessimistic note that while we may be unable to reverse climate change, the combined actions of those interested in halting the decline of Swift numbers could be a success. Food for thought!

The event finished with a breakfast provided by the Council and a lot of networking among those present whose combined enthusiasm and expertise will, it is hoped, result in an increase in Swift numbers through ensuring that traditional nest sites are preserved and new ones established.