Need to tackle ecological emergency underlined as swift nests decline in city

Published: Wednesday, 26th October 2022

Swift nest numbers are declining in the city of Oxford, underlining the need for action as Oxford City Council reaffirms its commitment to address the ecological emergency.

The decline has been reported in the 2022 survey from the Oxford Swift City project which found that there are 20% fewer swift nests in Oxford City than in 2021. 

Swifts, which are the fastest bird in level flight and are capable of reaching a top speed of 69mph, have experienced a serious decline in recent decades. Across the UK Swift breeding population decreased by 51% from 1995 to 2015.

The Oxford Swift City project, was established in 2017 when Oxford became England’s first “Swift City”, and aims to improve the outlook for swifts in Oxford, as well as raise local awareness of the many ways that we can help them.

2022 swift survey

Each year the Oxford Swift City project surveys swift nests across the city. The survey aims to identify where swifts are nesting in the city, and identify any trends in the numbers of breeding swifts.

The 2022 survey has found that there are 20% fewer swift nests in Oxford City, when compared with the previous year. Overall across the city the number of swift nests decreased from 101 to 83 nests, and the number of low-flying swifts has decreased by 12% overall.

While some colonies of nests are still strong – in 2022 the tower of the Natural History Museum, recorded its highest number of fledglings since 2008 – most swift nests and holes are in the roofs of residential houses and are blocked up when property owners carry out repairs.

Supporting swifts in Oxford

In order to help the swift population, the project is encouraging residents to install swift nest boxes to give the birds alternative homes. The team is currently working with residents in Cowley to install nest boxes in an area where the annual survey identified a cluster of swift nests in a few adjacent streets.  The hope is that, by providing secure nests for them, this will help that colony of swifts to maintain its number and perhaps grow.

The Oxford Swift City Group consists of volunteers and is supported by the RSPB. Anyone who would like to volunteer for next year’s survey or would like more information on installing swift nest boxes can contact  

Oxford’s ecological and climate emergency

The new data follows Oxford City Council reaffirming its commitment to addressing ecological emergency at its Council meeting earlier this month.

The motion recognises that:

  • Nature is declining faster than at any previous time and urgent action must be taken to reverse this trend
  • A thriving natural environment underpins a healthy, prosperous society,
  • The nature and climate crises are intrinsically linked, and we cannot tackle one without taking action on the other.

Supporting unique species such as swifts is key in preventing the decline of nature within the city.

Following the motion, the Council will be working on a report on the options for an evidence-based strategy and action plan to tackle the ecological emergency, as well as a report on the progress made so far.

“Earlier this month Oxford City Council reaffirmed our commitment to addressing Oxford’s ecological emergency. Now, this most recent report on declining swift nests further highlights our need to take action to protect wildlife in our city. The Swift City project, which is supported by the Council, is working to help swifts thrive. Anyone can get involved by asking their neighbours, employers or landlords to install a swift box.”
Councillor Imogen Thomas, Cabinet Member for Zero Carbon Oxford and Climate Justice

“After a decline in nest numbers, this project continues to illustrate the need for Oxford to remain a ‘Swift City'.”
Daniel Widdowson, senior conversation officer for the RSPB