In July 2021 one of my worst fears came true.
There is a beautiful colony of swifts in Vejer that I have watched and documented for years. They return each year to breed in an abandoned building on Avenida Andalucia. It is a thing of astounding beauty, hundreds of swifts fly together at dusk and dawn, it is incredibly moving to stand still as they screech past lightening fast.
I had always had an anxiety that the building would be developed at some point. This is why I documented it in photos and videos each year. This is what happened in July, one day as I was passing I saw that building works had begun, right in middle of the breeding season when the swifts were nesting. A strange thing happened to me, like a cross between a panic attack and deep calm strength of conviction. I breathed and vowed to turn my anxiety into action, to do everything I could for the swifts.
The first thing I did was to call Seprona (the environmental police), I knew it was illegal for building works to happen when swifts are nesting as they are a protected species. The builders were told the work would have to stop until the swifts had migrated. This was a short relief but the start of a whole project to try and make sure measures were introduced to ensure the continuance of the colony. What I learned is that whilst it is illegal to carry out the works whilst the birds are present, there is no legal obligation to provide an alternative.
I resolved to do all I could to do create something positive faced with what seemed like a bleak outcome for the swifts.
It was the start of a journey in which I found I a support network, a whole community of people working to help swifts. To feel small and reach out and find you have people willing to help you is a very special thing. I am grateful to so many people and organisations who helped me on this path. Fernando Gómez Tineo my colleague from the Assocation Ecoágora is very special person who has always guided me with great patience. Edward Myer and Swift Conservation UK were also a great help, a great resource and Edward put me in touch with a lot of other swift people. Dick Newell from Action for Swifts another UK organisation, was also very helpful in providing information on specially designed swift bricks.
Locally, I also had the support of the Sociedad Gatitana de Historia Natural, I was taking part in their swift project, adopting grounded swifts when this happened with the colony in Vejer. The problem facing swifts was glaringly obvious, what is the use of caring for a grounded swift (or 10 in my case) if a colony of 100´s can be <legally> destroyed? I am especially grateful to Iñigo Sanchez and Alvaro Pérez Gómez of the SGNH.
I am also grateful to Beatriz Sanchez, head of biodiversity for the SEO (Sociedad Española de Ornitologia) who got in touch with me and supported me throughout the process of attempting to offer solutions.
My source of inspiration and guidance came from the Colegio Esclavas in Jerez, they have an amazing educational conservation project in which the children learn about swifts by observing them and carrying out census of the swifts that nest in their school each year. Ignacio Quevedo and Jose Nietos, teachers from this school offered me guidance and support but more than anything INSPIRATION that it is possible to do something positive, this was the greatest guide during difficult circumstances.
I also have to openly thank Joaquin Nuñez, the developer of the building, who listened to me. We exchanged a sensible and educated dialog and Joaquin made his own commitment to the protecting the natural world by investing in artificial nest boxes. It is because of Joaquin that 20 artificial nest boxes were made and I was able to start an educational project in Colegio Los Molinos and IES La Janda in Vejer.