‘I feel I’ve made a mark’: the man who built homes for 60,000 swifts | Birds

Retired salesman John Stimpson is 80 immediately. He might be celebrating with a cake at Slimming World this night, adopted by dinner together with his household on Friday. Stimpson has one achievement particularly to mark: he has simply accomplished his aim of constructing 30,000 swift containers, which might home half of the UK’s breeding population of 60,000 pairs.

A sign advertises Ely Stimpson’s wildlife boxes for birds and hedgehogs
An indication advertises Stimpson’s wildlife homes, that are in use throughout the UK, in addition to in Sweden, France, Spain and Italy. {Photograph}: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

Stimpson has been making these peculiarly formed containers for 13 years utilizing three saws and three drills in his storage connected to his bungalow close to Ely in Cambridgeshire. What began as a retirement interest morphed into a full-time job after orders elevated, and he generally works 13-hour days to get all of them executed. He sells them for £20, which is sufficient to cowl his prices.

He has additionally made about 700 containers for barn owls and 800 for blue tits, finches, blackbirds and thrushes. Based on the British Belief for Ornithology, a excessive share of swift containers put up in the UK have been made by Stimpson. It wasn’t till he went via his order ebook final July that he realised fairly what number of he’d made.

“I don’t get bored. It’s superb the variety of life issues which were solved on this storage. Your thoughts thinks over issues,” he says. He hopes he’ll nonetheless be making the containers when he’s 99 (the age his mom is), however his tempo will in all probability gradual.


It’s estimated that half the human-made nest containers in the UK are inhabited, so Stimpson has in all probability housed 15,000 pairs of swifts. He talks about his achievement with modesty. “It’s a good thought,” he says. “I’m fairly pleased with it at the finish of the day. After failing tutorial exams in the 50s, I feel I’ve made a mark.”

Stimpson retired early, after working as a Weetabix salesman for 20 years then promoting horticultural labels at Burall Bros for one other 19. He has lived in the village of Wilburton for 51 years together with his spouse, Jill. He says it was because of his grandfather – who was a farm employee – taking him out that he discovered to like nature. “I get a lot pleasure from wildlife. Constructing these containers is a technique I pays it again.”

Like many individuals, Stimpson has observed an alarming lack of wildlife in his lifetime. The clouds of swifts, swallows and home martins of his childhood have disappeared. He feels indignant that his two granddaughters can not take pleasure in the abundance of the previous.

Common swifts fly at dusk in Wiltshire
Widespread swifts fly at nightfall in Wiltshire. Stimpson observed how a lot scarcer the birds had change into in his lifetime. {Photograph}: Nick Upton/Alamy

A lack of nesting websites is driving the decline of swifts in the UK, whose numbers are believed to have dropped by about 57% in 22 years. These migrants – which at the moment are on the UK’s purple listing – are web site particular, that means every spring they arrive again to the identical spot after flying 1000’s of miles from Africa. The issue is that a lot of previous barns and draughty homes have been upgraded and patched up and nesting websites have disappeared.

In spring, swifts screech when looking for a place to nest and entice mates. Some birds will frantically flap their wings in useless, looking for their previous nesting spot. “To listen to these birds screaming is kind of distressing,” says Stimpson. “There’s no want for it. We are able to have our homes hermetic, however we are able to nonetheless make homes for them,” he says.

13 years in the past nobody was making swift containers, so Stimpson began. “I’m not a carpenter, I’m a salesman, however I believed I’ll actually give it a go,” he says. When he began he might make three a day, now on a actually good day he could make 30. “I nonetheless wish to make as many containers as I can. I don’t like letting folks down. My phrase is my bond,” he says. His containers have been despatched throughout the UK, in addition to to Sweden, France, Spain and Italy, and his pc is filled with footage of swifts in his containers from grateful recipients.

A man holds a handmade swift box
Stimpson holds one among his handmade swift containers. {Photograph}: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

Authorities and massive wildlife organisations have an excessive amount of paperwork, says Stimpson, and don’t find yourself doing a lot to cease wildlife loss. “We appear to have too many pen-pushers and never sufficient employees,” he says. “We might do an terrible lot greater than we’re doing. I don’t care if it’s Tory, Labour, Liberals or the Monster Raving Loony get together. They should handle this.”

He believes native motion teams are way more efficient and has been working with a variety of them, together with the Suffolk Chook Group, who run Save our Suffolk Swifts (SOS Swifts), and Motion for Swifts. “The variety of swift teams which have began up in the final 5 to eight years is kind of staggering. They usually appear to go from energy to energy,” he says.

Volunteers wish to emulate the success story of barn owls. In 1987, these farmland birds had been at their lowest ebb with 4,500 breeding pairs. Because of volunteers, immediately there are about 12,000 breeding pairs in the UK, with 80% dwelling in human-made containers.

There are small success tales throughout the nation. Eddie Bathgate observed Suffolk’s swift inhabitants crashing in the Nineties and 2000s, so he arrange SOS Swifts in 2016. Now there are greater than 1,200 of Stimpson’s containers round the county, together with 120 in Bathgate’s residence city of Woodbridge, 27 of which hosted nesting pairs final summer season.


In Cumbria, volunteers from Sedbergh Group Swifts have put up 140 containers, all made by Stimpson, besides for seven, which had been copies made by native schoolchildren. An advert hoc survey of 99 containers final summer season discovered 46% of them had been occupied.

“Swifts are the one factor the place a person could make a important distinction,” says Dick Newell, from Motion for Swifts, who has 66 pairs of nesting swifts in his village of Landbeach in Cambridgeshire, 20 of them nesting on his home. “They’re terrific birds. I’ve been an engineer. I like downside fixing, and these birds current so many issues that we are able to remedy.”

A common swift looks out of a nest box
‘Terrific birds’: a frequent swift seems to be out of one among Stimpson’s nest containers in Norfolk. {Photograph}: Kevin Elsby/Alamy

Newell says builders ought to be obliged to place a swift brick in each new-build, and he has been working with housebuilding firm Taylor Wimpey to make this happen. Exeter metropolis council has began incorporating them into new buildings, in addition to the Duchy of Cornwall, and native councils are getting on board. Others are engaged on bee bricks and hedgehog holes in new developments.

“John Stimpson has offered area for nature on a scale that I don’t know if anybody else has executed, and he’s practically 80,” says Bathgate. “We’ve to hope that somebody will step into his sneakers, though I don’t assume he has any plans for retirement.”

Discover extra age of extinction protection right here, and comply with biodiversity reporters Phoebe Weston and Patrick Greenfield on Twitter for all the newest information and options

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