A Scream of Swifts

Last autumn Jan asked if I’d be interested in making a swift costume or something for a publicity stunt. Sheffield Swift Network had made a petition to make ‘swift bricks’ mandatory for all new builds and extensions in Sheffield. Act Now! a local theatre group were to perform their ‘Swift’s Lament’ outside the Town Hall when handing in the petition and were looking for something to attract the public’s attention.

Obviously I couldn’t resist! I could see immediately how a lantern-style swift could do the trick and after a few negotiations, we set to work.

When discussing the design with Act Now! I’d estimated making a bird with a wingspan of 60cm, but when it came to it, we were reaching over 2 meters! I think the willow was very instrumental in making any decisions.

Test Flight outside Abbeyfield House, where we made the swift.

Handing in the petition

Act Now! had already picked up the swift, so all I had to do was to amble into town for 9 o’clock. As I approached the Town Hall, I could see the larger-than-life swift darting about, swooping towards the pavement, almost crashing before flying back up gracefully. What a sight! It was definitely worth making it bigger than intended! It was great for me to see something I’d helped make come to life in someone else’s hands and meet people concerned enough about swifts to take action in their defence. The swift was named, Hannah after bird conservationist Hannah Bourne-Taylor.

The petition was handed over to Sheffield City Council, (24th November 2022) and was positively received by councillors .

Whilst the council fell short of agreeing to mandate swift bricks in all new buildings, they DID suggest that the Local Plan would include swift bricks in the examples of what can be included to increase biodiversity. The valiant wok of the Sheffield Swift Network continues.

More swifts please!

Hannah the swift had done a good job outside the Town Hall and she’d caught the attention of other swift groups further a field, in particular from The Feather Speech. Watch this great video here.

And with this attention came an invitation to make more swifts – A LOT more!

So we put our heads together and decided the best way we could do something effective and manageable, was to run a swift making workshop and video the process. then the video could be uploaded onto YouTube and be available to other interested groups and individuals nationwide. A scream of swifts indeed.

We booked a couple of Sundays at Abbeyfield House, made a Facebook group and an Eventbrite listing and told our friends. The day before the first workshop, a few of us got together to do some drawing and painting swifts. That was a lovely day. Great place to start from, highly recommended.

At the workshop, Merve brought his camera, I made a malt loaf and people came and we go on with making swifts!

Drawing first really helped.

To make the swifts we used willow and WSTP (wet strength tissue paper) from Musgrove Willows who I’ve used for over 20 years and recommend. Don’t risk buying the WSTP off Amazon as you my get something far less good and don’t try using standard craft tissue paper, it simply won’t work. WSTP is amazing! You can read about it here.

We set up a crowdfund to cover material costs – That did the job. Thanks everyone who contributed!

Using the same methods as lantern making until it gets to the painting.

We covered the willow frames with wet strength tissue paper and PVA glue/water mix. Left them to dry and then painted: first the overall dark colour, then defined the eyes and feathers with a lighter colour.

The two workshops went really well. Not only did we make lots of swifts, but we got to know more about swifts, the network and lots more. By the end of the second workshop, we could see we needed more time, so we booked every Sunday in February to carry on! At the last count, there were 14 swifts on the go!

And so we continue…

Make your own swift!

Here’s the video! Thanks Merve for putting this together. If you or your group would like to make a scream of swifts, or just the one, here’s how. If you’ve any questions, get in touch. If you make a swift, let us know how you get on or tell us what swift news you have to tell: Facebook group, Screaming Swifts! or email: patrickamber.co.uk Enjoy!

What next?

We hope to see the swifts in action in London

At The Feather Speech’s core there is a petition to help 4 red listed urban British birds. The petition was created and approved by leading scientists from the RSPB and ecological government advisors, as well as sustainable development assessors. It calls for swift bricks to be made compulsory in new housing across the UK, which would benefit swifts, house sparrows, house martins and starlings. The petition closes on 30th April 2023 and needs to get 100,000 signatures for the petition to get the chance to be debated in parliament. You know what to do!

As we make, we talk and plan other ideas for our swifts. Expect to see them on display at Burngreave Spring Clean Week in March and Abbeyfield Community Festival in July. Who knows where they might fly to next!