Garage doors

Country notebook: Helping our summer migrants in hostile environments | Birds

Jhis square of mud has no place in the immaculate barnyard, but it is wanted. After a dry and parching spring, the swallows need soft mud to build their nests. Shiny and slippery darts, they flash and fill their beak.

This year, Dad is experimenting with the “double roof” to help the chicks swallow. When a new roof was needed for a stable block, the replacement was installed directly over the old one like a second skin. The sparrows already love it, fluttering in the space between.

This should prevent the chicks from overheating as they often do under corrugated iron roofs – when temperatures hit the 30s the young have no choice but to climb out of their sauna nests and fall to the ground. With gaping yellow, sometimes blind, pink and barely feathered beaks, they are helpless and vulnerable to predators or trampled by a horse.

Unfortunately, not everyone welcomes our summer migrants, with retailers, councils and property developers often determined to keep them out. Three years ago we fought our neighboring Tesco supermarket until it allowed swallows to nest in their usual position. Fortunately, it has since welcomed them, with cups and explanatory signs to customers. But this is clearly not an enterprise-wide approach.

Last month, heavy with deja vu, I learned that once again a Tesco store had put nets. As the house swallows made this formidable flight from sub-Saharan Africa, local people sprang into action and a petition reached 50,000 signatories. The nets were removed just in time for the return of these red-listed birds.

And it’s not just corporations taking this legal but disgusting and immoral approach. Nearby, a beautiful cart, occupied by swallows last year, had secure garage doors installed. Another site gone. I feel bad thinking about it.

Active nests cannot legally be disturbed, and of course summer migrants leave, but they remain site-loyal. Often there is simply no suitable alternative if they are faced with nets or doors. Our heralds of summer continue to decline.

Every year the swallows fill me with joy as they marvel at their almost impossible beauty and acrobatic elegance. We need to do more.