Software supports a Swift recovery

Posted on July 8, 2022

In the past 20 years, over 50% of the UK’s Swift population has vanished. Researchers believe that there are several reasons behind the disappearance of these beautiful migratory birds, with one of the main reasons thought to be the loss of swift nesting sites in the UK. Swifts are believed to pair for life and they meet up at the same nest site in the UK each spring – which is usually a gap under roof tiles or in the eaves of buildings. But as more and more old buildings are demolished or renovated, many swifts are returning to discover their nest site is gone (RSPB).

For the past 100 years, the RSPB has been committed to trying to preserve and improve the status of native and migratory birds in the UK, including those of the Swift. But, in order to do this, conservationists need to have a clear understanding of the factors at play in the decline of Swifts currently migrating to and residing in the UK over the spring and summer months. And to do that, they need help from you and me.  This is why the citizen science project, Swift Mapper was launched. 

Over the past 4 years, we’ve been working closely with the RSPB and partners (including the Swifts Local Network – a UK-wide network of dedicated swift experts and enthusiasts) on the Swift Mapper project.  This was set up with a number of key objectives in mind, key among them being to:

  • Directly engage the general public in Swift conservation 
  • Show where swifts are nesting, so that their sites can be flagged and protected within the planning system

The Swift Mapper app and supporting website enable you to record and view Swift sightings specifically related to nesting activity, including where next boxes have been provided. As well as enabling you to upload sightings in situ, the app also has an ID guide to help you accurately identify swifts if you need a bit of help.

To date, over 75,000 records have been have been submitted by the Swift Mapper project with sightings from across the UK. This data is helping the RSPB, and swift groups working at the coal face, to better understand and protect nesting swifts.

As well as recording Swift sightings we can all help swifts by providing additional suitable nesting sites. If you want to help in this way, join your local swift group and they will be happy to share information and discuss the best ways to help. Our CEO, Dave, is a real swift enthusiast and has installed 3 Swift boxes on his house, hoping to encourage some nesting birds in the future. 

Swifts, however, are extremely fussy and complex creatures. This means they are not the easiest birds to encourage to new nest sites. Although no success this year, Dave hasn’t given up and continues to play Swift calls from his window in the hope of encouraging Swifts to scope out the nests before they migrate to Africa. Early in May and July are the key times to tempt swifts to check out new locations.  Perhaps they will move in next year… Watch this space! 

Our CEO, Dave Kilbey comments; ‘It’s been great to work with the RSPB and partners on the Swift Mapper project. Swifts are truly remarkable birds. For many, they epitomise summer as they form highly acrobatic groups, screaming and dashing low over our villages, towns and cities. I’m lucky enough to have them nesting nearby and I never tire of seeing and hearing them. I feel very strongly motivated to try and help reverse their decline, and I hope Swift Mapper will help to encourage others to join in and do what they can to help.’

Using software for citizen science projects like Swift Mapper can help in a number of ways.  It not only helps to encourage the general public to get involved in conservation (by providing an accessible means to get involved), but it also provides otherwise unattainable volumes of data for organisations like the RSPB, helping them to work at a much larger scale and devise clear and actionable plans to help the state of nature in the UK.”

To find out more about the Swift Mapper project and to get involved, head over to our project page

Are you looking at setting up a citizen science project and think technology could support? 

Then don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. We’d be happy to discuss your needs in more detail and answer any questions you may have.