Swift (Apus apus) - Species Action Plan

Plan Author: RSPB
Plan Co-ordinator: Communities and Nature Topic Group
April 2012 Final

Action Plan Summary

Current Status

National Status

  • The European swift population is 4.4 - 12 million pairs, with the UK population standing at 85,000 breeding pairs (N.B. figure from 1988-1991). Between 1994 and 2006, the UK population declined by 29%
  • The swift is not currently considered a species of concern in Europe
  • The swift is not a national UK BAP species
  • The swift is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended). It is an offence to intentionally take, damage or destroy the eggs, young or nest of a swift whilst it is being built or in use. The Act allows for fines or prison sentences for every bird, egg or nest destroyed. There is no such legal protection for swift nest-sites in the non-breeding season, despite the bird being highly nest-site faithful
  • The swift is on the amber list of Birds of Conservation Concern because its population has declined by more than 25% in 25 years.

Norfolk Status

  • According to the BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey, the swift population appears to be stable in the east of England; however, it declined by 44% in the south-east between 1995 and 2008.
  • The BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey has recorded swift in 44 1km squares (five-year mean) across Norfolk.
  • Total counts of individuals in flight or calling have fluctuated but the current five-year mean is 455 individuals. (N.B. this only provides a relative indication of abundance, as BBS does not detect all birds in a 1km square).

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Current Factors Influencing Breeding Success and Survival

  • Loss of nest sites - Over time, building regulations, particularly those governing efficiency, have meant that there are fewer spaces, if any, for swifts to nest in buildings. Even older buildings that may traditionally have supported nesting swifts may not be suitable any longer due to renovations or roof insulation adhering to modern building regulations, and the retro-fitting of insulation. If traditional sites are no longer available swifts may not breed at all.
  • Survival during migration and at African wintering grounds - Little is known at present about all the factors contributing to the decline in UK breeding swifts. It is possible that fewer birds are surviving to return to the UK each year. This issue is being researched. New information from swifts carrying geo-locators will help reveal where they go in winter.

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Current Action in Norfolk

  • Due to a lack of formal protection, there is currently limited protection afforded through the planning system. For larger developments, swift is being highlighted as a species that could benefit through the provision of nesting opportunities in new buildings. This has been most evident in the discussions regarding biodiversity guidance for the Rackheath Eco-town, where it has been recommended that swift bricks or nest boxes be incorporated in new dwellings.
  • Members of the public are currently contributing to the RSPB’s National Swift Inventory database5, which identifies breeding sites for swifts. The data collected can then be used to inform planners and local authorities to protect existing nest sites and target the provision of new nests.
  • Starting in 2011, the South Yare Wildlife Group has also been carrying out its own survey of nesting swifts (covering the area of Norfolk immediately to the south-east of Norwich, bounded by the river Yare to the north and east, the River Chet to the south, and the River Tas to the west).

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Action Plan Objectives and Targets


  • No national


  • To maintain 100% of the current distribution of swifts in Norfolk (no net loss of area occupied).
  • To increase the distribution of swifts across Norfolk. Particular emphasis should be placed on areas of new development, derelict sites that are being redeveloped, or where retrofitting of existing properties is being carried out.

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