The Swifts are returning, but for how much longer? An introduction from BPOTY director Paul Sterry.
'The last week of April and first week of May usually heralds the arrival in the UK of Swifts, returning after their long migration from wintering grounds in Africa. Sadly, in the UK the species is in tragic decline and according to the British Trust for Ornithology UK Swift numbers have declined by more than 50% over the last decade.
Nowadays they nest primarily in manmade structures: churches, loft spaces in houses, gaps under roof tiles and the like; loss of nest sites, and more specifically access, is at least partly responsible for their woes. But a tragic decline in insect numbers - they catch flying insects on the wing – is also thought to be a contributory factor. A lack of nest sites is being combatted by the increasingly widespread use of Swift Nest Boxes with new house builds but the environmental problems underlying the lack of food in the intensively farmed British countryside are much harder to resolve.
The winning entry in the Bird Photographer of the Year Conservation Documentary Award this year is from UK photographer Nick Upton who has expertly illustrated the plight of the Swift in the UK and the conservation efforts being made by some to address their decline.'
BIRD PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR CONSERVATION DOCUMENTARY AWARD
New for 2020, this award sought entries in the form of a series of three to six images and extended captions that together document the story behind a bird-related conservation or environmental issue. It was BPOTY’s intention that the subject story could have a positive or negative narrative; it could be ‘shock and awe’, or it might be unerringly optimistic. The judges looked for a cohesive set of images that show tenacious and innovative storytelling in a photo-journalistic style. Congratulations to the winner of the inaugural Conservation Documentary Award, Nick Upton from the United Kingdom.
UK Swift Conservation by Nick Upton
All images and text ©Nick Upton/Bird Photographer of the Year
'This photographic documentary charts the fortunes of the UK’s declining population of Common Swifts Apus apus. It features birds returning to remaining nest sites in old roofs and to increasingly vital nestboxes; and it highlights conservation success stories. My project involved long, hot shifts and rapid camera action following waits of up to three hours for parents to return with insect-crammed throat-pouches. I took some shots from a scaffold platform and others with a rooftop remote camera, and I captured screaming displays at dusk while the light still allowed fast shutter speeds. Climbing a near-vertical 15m ladder to access a church tower’s nestboxes was a challenge, but working with the wonderful Common Swift conservation community was always a pleasure.'
Birds on the Brink is a new charity funded by Bird Photographer of the Year competition profits to fund grass roots conservation projects where modest sums of money can do the most measurable good. It has received its first generous donation from the profits of Bird Photographer of the Year 2020. Everyone involved is truly thankful to all those people who enter their pictures, buy books and support the competition through promotion and giving up their time.
We have wasted no time in putting the money to good use, including a grant for a project to bring Swifts into central Winchester through the installation of 20 nest boxes in the Cathedral tower.
Paul Sterry, Trustee of Birds on the Brink, said "A few years ago I saw Swifts nesting in tree holes in the pristine forests of northern Latvia. Historically, that would have been the nest site of choice in the UK except we have cut down large swathes of forests meaning that we now live in one of the least wooded regions in Europe. Elsewhere, in southern Europe I have seen them nesting, alongside other swift species, in coastal cliff crevices and hollows and that's where roof spaces and other nooks and crannies in old buildings formerly satisfied the nesting requirements of these wonderful birds. But again we have begun to ruin that with our quest for air-tight buildings. So all in all the fate of nesting Swifts in the UK, as elsewhere in the world, lies entirely in our hands. The work of Hampshire Swifts to install nest boxes, and their campaign for Swift bricks to be incorporated into modern architecture, resonates deeply with our own purpose at Birds on the Brink and we therefore had no hesitation in supporting this fantastic project.”