Wild and wonderful churchyard sanctuaries
Many Suffolk churchyards are a precious sanctuary for wildlife being free of herbicides and pesticides. Take time out from Twitter to hear real-live tweets and don’t even give Google a passing thought as you sit and contemplate creation in all its glory
Make your visit part of a churches trail or a summer bike ride and pack a picnic.
The national project Caring for God’s Acre celebrates the beauty and diversity of our churchyards.
Suffolk Wildlife Trust helps churches manage their churchyards for wildlife.
Church buildings are a haven for swifts which are in trouble due to a lack of suitable nesting sites.
Swifts and Suffolk churches
Swifts rely on us allowing them to return to the same nest hole every year. This is becoming more crucial as these beautiful birds that we love to hear in summer face a steep decline – with numbers almost halved in the past 20 years.
Tagging shows that when they leave us in August, they spend autumn in the Congo and are in Tanzania for Christmas. They return to the UK in the first week of May.
How can churches help now?
If you are planning annual maintenance or repair work Suffolk Wildlife Trust asks that you take extra care not to block up small holes and crevices that swifts might return to nest in – it’s so easy to destroy these unwittingly. It is also important not to do this work — especially eaves, roofs or guttering — between May and the end of August, particularly if you are aware your buildings are being used by swifts.
How can churches help in early summer?
When swifts arrive, you can record a screaming party and also record a swift nest site by visiting the Swift survey page of the Suffolk Biological Records Centre (SBRC) website. This information is vital to help with their care and to safeguard this precious species for the future.
Suffolk Wildlife Trust and Suffolk Ornithologists’ Group are jointly leading a project called SOS Swifts and are working with SBRC to develop this important campaign.
Unlike bats, swifts are clean and, unlike other birds, don’t leave piles of droppings under their nest places and there’s no smell either. Swifts don’t need to interfere with maintenance schemes and if a church is planning repairs, they need to think pre- April or September onwards.
Several churches in Suffolk have provided nesting boxes for swifts, using call systems to attract them. Nest sites need to be at least 4.5 metres from the ground so churches are ideal.
Visit the Swift Conservation website to find out more.
Here’s a few examples of what Suffolk churches are doing
Worlington All Saints has installed 40 nest boxes in its 700-year-old tower and recorded 20 nesting pairs last year. The church featured on BBC’s Songs of Praise last September and has an annual Swift Fest.
Herringswell has installed four boxes under the eaves and they play swift calls to attract swifts and Stowmarket has external boxes.
Santon Downham is planning a swift tenement of three boxes installed around the belfry openings with swift calls to attract birds looking for a nesting site.
Behind the louvres of the belfry is a great location for swifts as they are inside the building where they prefer to be and they don’t mind the sound of bells!
Churches in the Diocese of Oxford are supporting swifts. Read more here.
And finally . . .
Advice on swifts and nesting boxes – If in doubt about how to help swifts or how to install nest boxes, please contact Edward Jackson via Suffolk Wildlife Trust on 01473 890089 or firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’re a Twitter user, don’t forget to use the hashtag #SOSswifts when you tweet about saving swifts.
Our picture of the swift in flight is by Bill Baston