The Edinburgh Swift City project, funded by ScottishPower Foundation, is wrapping up after a year of creating a sanctuary for swifts across the city. The aim of the project was to protect and enhance the local swift population through community engagement and conservation.

Swifts are ancient and fascinating birds. These amazing fliers diverged from other bird species around the same time Tyrannosaurus Rex died out, 65 million years ago! They are the weight of a Cadbury’s Crème Egg, yet travel over 18,000 miles each year from their winter feeding grounds in the skies over central Africa to Edinburgh. They only land when they return to Edinburgh. They eat, bathe, drink, mate and even sleep on the wing.

Tragically swift numbers have declined by 58% in 23 years.

Community engagement included establishing Edinburgh’s first ever Swift Local Group, involving 60 volunteers, and delivering over 20 talks, training events and workshops about swifts to community groups, schools and youth groups. Other awareness raising activities included a creative campaign, articles and blogs, swift-themed activity packs, videos and podcasts.

Twenty-five locations across Edinburgh were enhanced for swifts. These included swift streets (streets with colonies of swifts and multiple new swift nest boxes), swift hubs (public buildings with multiple swift boxes), swift feeding hot-spots and five new swift murals that were connected by a series of walking and cycle routes that were promoted during Swift Awareness Week (3 – 11 July 2021). Over 2,000 people clicked on the swift cycle route resources during Swift Awareness Week alone.

In terms of conservation there were surveys, research and nest box protection and building. Since the start of the project over 500 swift surveys have been carried out across Edinburgh to give a solid understanding of where the current swift population nest and feed. RSPB scientists collected data on the health and fitness of Edinburgh’s swifts during the breeding season.

Five swifts were fitted with tiny GPS-tags (under 1 gram in weight) to record where they were feeding over a two-week period. The data is still being analysed, but the success of this trial may see similar studies rolled out across the UK. Over 45 people have received training to make swift nest boxes, resulting in 100 new swift nest boxes and special swift bricks being installed across Edinburgh since the start of the project. A further 97 boxes and specialist swift bricks will be installed in the next few months.

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