CAPTION: Common Swifts have returned to the tower at St Michael the Archangel for the first time in over 25 years

Live Swift Cams in Dartmoor Church

Posted: 7th August, 2020

The bell tower at St Michael the Archangel in Chagford has become a nesting site for Common Swifts for the first time in over 25 years.

Local naturalist Nick Baker worked with the vicar at St Michael’s to re-introduce swifts to the church tower.

Last week, Nick Baker, a local naturalist and TV presenter, hosted a livestream from the church, which was broadcast on the RSPB England Facebook page and featured live camera feeds of the swifts nesting in the church and a live Q&A with Nick.

Nick said: “There were swifts in the church when I first moved here in the ’90s, but since then the church has been re-appointed, it’s been restored, and in doing so, all the little cracks and crevices that are so important to swifts for nest sites were blocked up and lost, and once you break the continuity of a colony, the birds disappear.”

The project to re-introduce swifts to the church began in 2016 after Nick spoke with the vicar of the church, Rev’d Paul Seaton-Burn. Whilst some renovation work was being done on the bell tower, 32 specially designed nest boxes were placed behind the louvres, and the strange screaming calls of the swifts were played through a small speaker to attract them.

The church has installed screens to view a live camera feed from some of the nest boxes.

A number of swifts now breed in the tower every year and they can be seen coming and going during their nesting period of fewer than 8 weeks from mid–May. Four of the nest boxes have small cameras inside with a live video feed playing on screens in the church for visitors and local school children to follow their progress.

The project is part of a larger plan of managing the biodiversity of the churchyard which is a central green space in the town of Chagford.

Rev’d Paul said: “The swifts have been such a joy, it’s really compelling to watch! We’re really keen to promote the idea of the churchyard as a shared sacred space, and we’ve now got an exciting plan in place that we’ve worked on with other groups within the community.”

Local schoolchildren collecting samples from the churchyard.

Each year, the church has held a ‘BioBlitz’ event, which invites schoolchildren to take part in finding, recording and identifying the flora and fauna in the churchyard with the help of a research team from University College London.

Paul said: “It’s been fantastic for relationships within the community, and is a lovely way for people to see the church in a different way.”

The RSPB livestream is still available to view on this Facebook link.