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High Rise Accommodation Now Available in Shalford, If You Are Swift

Published on: 30 May, 2020
Updated on: 3 Jun, 2020

The new tower in Shalford attracting interest. The black solar panel powers the audio system that emits swift calls. Photo Will Nash

By Martin Giles

Passers-by in Shalford are noticing a new erection by the village green and questioning its purpose.

It is a “Swift Tower” designed to attract summer visiting swifts and provide nesting facilities for up to 90 pairs.

The plight of the UK’s swifts is highlighted on the RSPB’s website which states: “Each year, swifts fly from Africa to the UK to breed, but with numbers plummeting they desperately need your help.

“In just 20 years, more than half of our swifts have vanished and we believe that the loss of nest sites in the roofs of buildings is at least partly responsible.”

Designer Will Nash who was on site to witness the installation said: “I’m really pleased to have the Swift Tower installed at last. It has been a long process from getting the commission back in November 2018 to completion this week. I would like to thank Guildford Borough Council and Shalford Parish Council for their support and enthusiasm for the project.

Erection of the tower underway

“The brief for the project was “To design and create a Swift Tower, for location on Shalford Common, which will be an attractive functional piece of public art”. This unusual stipulation attracted me to the project; how to make an artwork that is also a viable habitat for a particular bird? I like a puzzle so I borrowed a book on swifts and got to work.

The tower’s base being lowered into position.

“Swifts ideally need a drop of at least six meters from their nest, so the tower had to be tall. The question of how to make something that looks right on top of a pole kept niggling at me and I wandered around looking at lamp posts, rooflines and pylons for a few days.

“The shape of the tower was drawn from several sources, including the need to have multiple eves and the need to make something aerodynamic so that it doesn’t catch the wind. This resulted in a shape drawn from nature like a seed head, pine cone or a cocoon.”

The project has been mainly funded by Section 106 developer contributions, which come from agreements between local authorities, in this instance GBC, and developers and linked to local planning permissions including, it is understood, a development in Station Road, Shalford.

The semi-circular entrance to one of the 45 swift “apartments. Photo Will Nash

Mr Nash continued: “The steel pole is 10 meters high, the swift accommodation is the four meters at the top, it is constructed from birch plywood and clad with larch. There are eight habitable stories, each story is split into several apartments; 45 apartments, so room for 90 swifts. Some apartments are bigger than others and each apartment has its own entrance hole.”

The entrance holes are numbered so that the tower can be monitored and the swifts counted and see how they use the tower and whether the same swifts come back to the same apartment year after year.

To attract the swifts to discover their new home the tower is equipped with a solar-powered audio system that can play swift calls for a few hours each day. It was hoped to have the tower installed before the swifts arrived back in the first week of May but the lockdown meant we had to wait and it is unlikely that swifts will take up residence this year. The calls are still to be played now because it is hoped curious swifts will investigate and remember the tower for next year.

The Swift Tower, in position and ready for inspection by any swifts still seeking a home

Will Nash added: “The Swift Tower has inspired me to make other habitable sculptures, including the stone “Bat Bothy” installed last year at Warnham Nature Reserve near Horsham, and the ‘Optohedron’ coming soon to the Surrey Hills AONB which has room for plenty of bugs and little creatures built into it.”

Cllr James Steel (Lib Dem, Westborough) GBC’s lead councillor for the Environment, said: “Will has created a fantastic piece of public art and I am delighted that we are able to help this fascinating species by protecting long-established parts of their habitat.

“The tower is an impressive feat of engineering and I am sure will also become a local landmark as well as being of significant regional importance to our wildlife. I look forward to seeing the tower become a thriving hub for an increasing local swift population.”

A swift showing it’s tell-tale, crescent-shaped wings. Photo Malcolm Fincham, taken at Guildford’s Riverside Nature Reserve

Cllr Alan Midgley, Chairman of Shalford Parish Council added: “We are delighted to have been part of this project and to see it come to fruition providing a haven for the swifts who are such an important part of the character of the village. We are grateful to all the parties involved for the hard work in completing the tower during these very constrained times.”

And Gordon Jackson, Chairman of Surrey Hills Trust Fund said: “Providing habitat for our wonderful wildlife to thrive across the Surrey Hills is at the heart of our Trust Fund’s mission. Will is an inspirational artist. I am sure the tower will provide a great, much-needed nesting place for swifts and be much-loved by our communities and visitors.”

Modelled on the 20th-century sculpture, the Endless Column by Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi, the tower was created in consultation with Edward Mayer, founder of the Swift Conservation Trust.

 

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