Water tower refurbishment creates new homes

A new set of speakers playing Swift bird call sounds will help to find some new residents for the 16 nesting boxes that have been recently installed on Essex & Suffolk Water’s Southwold water tower.

The playing of call sounds during June and July has been proved to be very successful for attracting Swifts into new nesting boxes and it is hoped fun loving couples would enjoy moving in to the new properties with excellent views over one of Suffolk’s premier towns.

As contractor for Essex & Suffolk Water, we carried out the work of installing the new nesting boxes, whilst the water tower received a £290,000 refurbishment to protect and maintain supplies to Southwold and ensure the highest quality drinking water.

Alex Mueller, conservation advisor for Essex & Suffolk Water said: “Research has shown that new nesting boxes that use the call broadcasting system have up to a 60 percent success rate of attracting a mating pair of Swifts and this is proving successful in getting birds to use new facilities.”

The water company has worked closely with SOS Swifts, a group established in 2014 to add support to the national effort to raise awareness of the threats faced by Swifts, and is a joint initiative between Suffolk Wildlife Trust and Suffolk Ornithologists' Group.

Honorary President of the Suffolk Ornithologists’ Group and environmental campaigner and journalist, John Grant, inspected the playing of bird call sounds at Southwold water tower and unveiled a small plaque to mark the occasion.    

“Swifts like to nest in small cracks and holes and on a water tower this might not be the best location for their homes. We are keen for them to use the nesting boxes so there is no damage to our buildings and the Swifts have a better place to bring up their chicks,” Alex said.

“Supplying high quality drinking water to 1.8 million customers in Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk means that our business is intrinsically linked with the natural environment. We work wherever possible to protect and enhance the natural world. Providing sanctuary for wildlife like this while we are carrying out improvement works is a great example of this,” she added.  

The striking Art Deco designed water tower in Southwold stands at 26 metres tall and was constructed in 1937 and holds 150,000 imperial gallons or 681,000 litres of drinking water. That’s enough for 8,500 baths or two baths for every resident.

SOS Swifts volunteer, Edward Jackson said: “Swifts are amazing birds. Apart from a few weeks each summer when they are with us raising their young, they spend the rest of the time in the air at heights of up to 3,000 metres, travelling between the UK and southern Africa  - and even sleeping on the wing!  Their screaming calls as they chase each other over the rooftops is one of the special sounds of summer.’

“Across the UK we have lost almost half our Swifts in the past 25 years. We believe this is mainly due to nest sites being destroyed as old buildings are demolished or roof repairs and improvements seal up existing nest sites.  Most people don’t realise they may have Swifts nesting in their roofs, as they are so fast and also very clean as well.”

“SOS Swifts is working to help Swifts in communities all across Suffolk and is delighted to be working with Essex & Suffolk Water and Stonbury to provide 16 new nest sites on the Southwold water tower.  It may take several years, but we hope that young birds from the colony of Swifts that is with us in Southwold right now will find and use these new homes - and help secure the future for this most iconic bird of summer.”