With UK swift populations declining by a startling 57% over the last twenty years, the National Trust’s Polesden Lacey is taking up a unique opportunity to support this beautiful species. While essential works have taken place on the water tower at Polesden Lacey, swift nesting boxes have also been installed, giving the birds a vital place to nest.
In years gone by, swifts would have traditionally nested in gaps and imperfections in building roofs, such as churches and old structures. However, as with the water tower repairs, where roofs are fixed and improved around the UK to make them watertight and insulated, the number of places the birds can find as home is becoming increasingly limited.
Using wood from the estate, Polesden Lacey’s carpentry volunteers have made swift-friendly boxes that will be installed under the rafters of the roof of the water tower, providing a safe and quiet haven.
‘It’s been over 10 years since we’ve been able to give the water tower a makeover and the installation of the swift boxes is a real bonus.’ Says Katherine Mills, Polesden Lacey’s General Manager.
Area Ranger, Alex McCafferty, added ‘We’re looking at opportunities across the estate to provide the best possible nesting conditions for swifts. The scaffolding being erected around the water tower was the perfect chance to help mitigate against the loss of the swift’s traditional habitat.’
The water tower itself has a fascinating history and was a significant feat of engineering. Built over 120 years ago by Ambrose Poynter, it supplied water to the main mansion house and surrounding estate buildings.
The tank within the building has a staggering capacity of over 300,000 litres and has been environmentally repurposed over the years supplying drinking water and irrigating the surrounding land.
The water, which has its source from Ranmore Common and Polesden estate’s southern border, is now used for the gardens and fire hydrants. Amazingly, it travels all the way down to the base of the valley and up again, before flowing up to the top of the Tower purely by the power of gravity. Now that’s a real force of nature.
Work is now well underway on the renovations works on the tower which include improvements to the bespoke French Doors designed to house the tank halfway up the tower, as well as fixing the decorative edging and making the roof as watertight as possible.
With works due to finish at the beginning of March, the nesting boxes will be in place by the beginning of the spring – exactly the time that swifts breed.
The next time you visit, look up at the tower in the stable courtyard. You’ll see the bird boxes and hopefully the swifts will have taken up residence.