Swifts Matter!
"The living world is disappearing before our eyes"
Peter Crane, Director, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Humans have already been compared to bacteria, destroying the Earth and all life on it. If we do this, and it really seems we are well along that road, then how can our children and their children live? The Earth can live without us, but we cannot live without the Earth. Going to Mars is all very well, but Elton John got it right. It's no place to raise your kids.

Does it matter if a species is wiped out? Yes - every species except for us Humans is interlinked with every other in a balanced environment that maintains the wherewithal to live; our supplies of oxygen, water and food depend on all these life forms thriving. When Humans intervene the results are unfortunate, sometimes catastrophic. The obvious example is the Brazilian rainforest, a rich and vast resource burned away to provide poor farmland that is useless after only a few years. Less trees and plants = less oxygen for us to breath, and no way of absorbing the excess CO2 we create. The result is climate change that will challenge our civilization, and a loss of soil fertility that may bring us to starvation.

In October 2014 "
Farmer's Weekly" magazine reported that the UK's soils would support just 100 more harvests.

"The UK only has 100 harvests left in its soil due to intensive overfarming, a study has claimed.

Scientists are warning that the UK is facing an “agricultural crisis” unless dramatic action is taken to reverse the depletion in soil nutrients. Researchers from the University of Sheffield found that soils under Britain’s allotments were significantly healthier than soils that have been intensively farmed. Soil samples from 27 plots on 15 allotment sites in urban areas were taken from local parks, gardens and surrounding agricultural land. Compared with local arable fields, the allotment soil was found to be significantly healthier.

“With a growing population to feed, and the nutrients in our soil in sharp decline, we may soon see an agricultural crisis.” Dr Nigel Dunnett, University of Sheffield

Allotment soil had 32% more organic carbon, 36% higher carbon to nitrogen ratios, 25% higher nitrogen and was significantly less compacted. While urban areas are perceived as grey and concrete, pockets of rich, fertile land could be converted into farms to grow a diverse range of produce, said the study authors. In order to ensure future generations are able to grow fruit and vegetables, researchers said we should start to see our towns and cities as potential farmyards. Growing crops and wildflowers in our cities will also boost biodiversity and help wildlife, they added.

Study head Dr Nigel Dunnett, from the University of Sheffield’s department of animal and plant sciences, said: “With a growing population to feed, and the nutrients in our soil in sharp decline, we may soon see an agricultural crisis. Meanwhile we are also seeing a sharp decrease in biodiversity in the UK, which has a disastrous knock-on effect on our wildlife. Lack of pollinators means reduction in food. We need to dramatically rethink our approach to urban growing and use the little space we have as efficiently as possible.”

This warehouse held a big colony of Swifts until it was demolished without warning. The breeding Swifts (clearly visible in the sky) were ignored, despite being protected by law. Photos © B Vogels

Dead Swifts, collected after the warehouse on the left was demolished while they were nesting in it. The nest sites are now lost for ever. It happens because no-one involved knows or cares enough to stop it, and the law is rarely if ever applied (though in this case, thankfully it was).

Have we the right to eliminate other life forms? We think the untimely death of a human unacceptable, yet we use up animal life without a care. Cod, Herring, Pilchards, Wild Salmon and Sea Trout, once present in massive numbers in our seas have all but disappeared. We've eaten the lot. It's just the same with birds. Within just the past forty years, the number of wild birds in the UK has halved. The 50 million or so Northern European migrating birds, Swifts included, slaughtered illegally every year by hunters around the Mediterranean are the more well-known victims, but fishing, habitat destruction, insecticides, insensitive planning, glass tower blocks, pollution and hostile agricultural techniques here in the UK and across the EC probably wipe out as many more each year. We are killing off birds so fast now we might as well be doing it on purpose. How long can we go on like this and still have birds in our world and Swifts in our skies?

A life without the wild world? Is that our future? It is looking ever more likely, so how do we fancy our children never knowing the real wild world out there, and all that's in it? Sitting at their computers, bent double staring at their mobile phones, they can be as isolated and deluded as a prisoner in solitary confinement, tapping messages on the walls. How will they discover and appreciate reality? And how will we ensure there is a wild world left for them to live in?

Swifts are fun! Swifts enhance our lives with their dramatic flight and exciting calls! They also eat billions of harmful insects every single day. Please help Swifts. They've proven they can live with us if we let them. We should welcome and cherish them, and rejoice in the Earth and its living creatures.

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