New Housing: Swift Bricks

Richard Burgon Excerpts
Monday 10th July 2023

(10 months, 2 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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Matt Vickers Portrait Matt Vickers
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My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is disappointing how few local authorities have adopted this approach. I am currently harassing my local authority about this, and I am sure many of our parliamentary colleagues will be doing the same. Today we are calling for a central approach from central Government to drive that.

Many of us watch out for swifts, believing they herald the beginning of British summer. Their status as an established British icon is clear from the support the petition rallied, capturing the imaginations and support of 109,894 members of the public from a wide cross-section of society and from across the entire United Kingdom. The number of signatures alone clearly demonstrates the public’s concern about losing these iconic birds completely, which would be a huge loss to our country’s biodiversity and culture. A loss of nesting sites has been cited as one of the biggest factors in the decline of bird populations. Embarrassingly, the UK has been rated as the worst in the G7 for the amount of wildlife and wild spaces lost to human activity, as measured in the biodiversity intactness index.

The issue stems from a lack of swift nesting sites, which are commonly found in the eaves of our houses or in gaps in brickwork. Swifts nest inside draughty spaces, which we target with mortar and expanding foam when we go about remodelling, renovating and insulating. Since 2013, the Government’s energy company obligation scheme has insulated 2.4 million homes, including by providing external wall insulation. Millions of birds have lost their homes due to us improving our homes’ energy efficiency and the issue’s rising status in the Government’s agenda. As we demolish 50,000 buildings each year, so that figure grows. The loss of nesting sites is particularly hard for swifts and house martins, which are site-loyal birds: they and their life mates return to the exact same site every year to nest.

Richard Burgon Portrait Richard Burgon (Leeds East) (Lab)
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The hon. Gentleman is making a wonderful speech. One of my constituents, Helen Lucy, came to see me and presented me with a very informative booklet about this campaign. Does he agree that there is no reason why action cannot be taken? I have written to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to ask for swift bricks to be made a national planning requirement. They are a win-win: they do not cost house builders much, and they would help to save the swift. As the hon. Gentleman said, the swift population in this country has declined by 57%. Swift bricks are an example of a simple action that the Government and those in power can take to make a real difference to wildlife in our country.

Matt Vickers Portrait Matt Vickers
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The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point: swift bricks cost little and have a huge impact. That is our ask to the Government, but regardless of whether we manage to pull it off today, I hope we will all go back to our constituencies and local authorities and drive for a bit more change.

When swifts return from their perilous nine-month flight and find that their nesting site has been blocked off or destroyed, they try to break entry. They are, unsurprisingly, not strong enough to break through several layers of insulation, and many injure themselves in their attempt to get back into their old nesting spots. If they are unable to fly, they will likely die. If they do not succeed but survive, they face a tough task of finding a new spot to nest in time to breed. That leads to many missing the mark, with the consequence that the population fails to grow again.

Old nesting spots are being lost, and new developments do not provide an alternative. Modern developments have no purpose-built nesting habitat for these birds and lack natural alcoves for birds to shelter. The swift brick is an answer to that problem. It is an intended nesting spot, providing permanence. It is a bespoke option that can host a wide range of nature. It has been designed to fit the dimensions of a standard UK brick, and is highly suitable for developments, since the overwhelming majority of modern houses are built from bricks or blocks. The bricks sit inside the wall and do not compromise its strength or insulation. They are fully enclosed, with a small, outward-facing hole for the swifts to enter. They are not offensive to look at and can be adapted to comply with the strict aesthetic requirements that developers need to meet.