Swift Action at Durham Cathedral

25th August 2022

Durham Cathedral has installed swift boxes in its Central Tower to preserve this endangered species.

Durham Cathedral to help prevent decline of the UK’s swift population

Swifts were once common in the city of Durham and are now classified as Red under the Birds of Conservation Concern. As part of the cathedral’s mission to protect wildlife and nature – following in St Cuthbert’s footsteps – swift boxes have been installed within the Central Tower.

Wooden, hand-made boxes carefully designed to fit around the architecture of the building and provide an ideal nesting place for the swifts, were fitted against the windows in the Central Tower earlier this week.

Maya Polenz, Chief Officer, Property at Durham Cathedral said:

‘Conservation and caring for nature is very important to us at Durham Cathedral, so we’re delighted to be able to respond to this situation and install swift boxes to help these endangered creatures.’

Each box contains multiple chambers featuring small platforms which is something swifts prefer when deciding where to nest. Attraction calls will also be played from near the boxes within the Tower to attract the swifts.

Maya added:

‘The Cathedral’s joiners have been building the specially designed boxes over the past few weeks to ensure they are ideal for nesting swifts, as well as fitting precisely within the cathedral’s intricate architecture.

“We’re looking forward to seeing how many swifts start to settle into the cathedral tower to build their nests and create a home and we’ve built in the opportunity to fit an unobtrusive wildlife camera in the future so we can monitor and share their progress.”

Swift boxes in other churches have proven very successful in welcoming nests. The height of the towers make church belfries an ideal place for swifts to nest, due to the degree of seclusion. The ingress points, while large enough for the swifts, are too small for birds of prey, further protecting the swift population.

Durham Cathedral to help prevent decline of the UK's swift population

The project has been supported by a generous donation from local businessman, Edward Twiddy.

Edward said:

“The sound and sight of swifts is an icon of summer. Their presence in the city sends a noisy and spectacular reminder that life returns each spring, but across the UK and much of Europe fewer and fewer of these tireless trans-continental visitors have been returning to raise the next generation.

“Needing little more than healthy insect populations and somewhere to nest, their demise should send a clear warning about what we are doing to the world around us.

“The cathedral is already home to many wonderful bird and bat species that enjoy the sanctuary of the towers and the cloisters; helping the swifts to come back year after year from Africa to find perfect nesting conditions felt like a small but right thing to do and I’m delighted that the Dean and everyone at the Cathedral responded so positively to the idea.”

To find out more about this project and other ways the cathedral is supporting nature conservation visit the Durham Cathedral website here.