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Cathedral swifts

Leading scientists from our Department of Biosciences and Mathematical Sciences are encouraging breeding swifts to nest by setting up high powered speakers in Durham Cathedral’s iconic Belfry Tower.

This pioneering project was designed and funded by Edward Twiddy, one of our Professors in Practice and a founder of Atom bank, with whom we share a strategic partnership to carry out collaborative research to protect the environment.

Speakers for swifts

The high-power speakers will be installed 60ft above the ground in Belfry Tower and broadcast the sound of swift calls early in the morning and again in late afternoon and evening.

The researchers are hoping that the sound produced by the speakers will attract young birds looking for their first nest site and guide them to the nest boxes that were installed last year inside the bell chamber at the top of the tower.

In addition to the sound system, a number of motion-triggered cameras will enable the team to monitor the nest box use.

Enhancing biodiversity

Swift populations in the UK have declined by 60% between 1995 and 2020 and, as a result, are on the red-list of the UK’s most threatened bird species.

Professor Stephen Willis, who is leading on our drive for net biodiversity gain, said: “The University is working in collaboration with the Cathedral and other land managers around the city to ensure we have a joined-up strategy to reverse the decline of biodiversity locally.

“The swift project also offers the potential for future research projects to better understand the ecology and movements of these enigmatic global tourists, complementing other work on migratory birds that is going on at the University.”

The project team are optimistic that the new sound technology installed at Durham Cathedral will help to speed up the colonisation of swifts in the tower and boost the population of this iconic bird.

Find out more

About our Department of Biosciences

Our Department of Biosciences is a leading centre for this increasingly important are of study and is ranked 6th in The Guardian’s Best UK Universities 2022 league table. Students develop a wide range of analytical and practical skills that prepare them to meet these challenges we face across the globe including food security, sustainability and the impact of climate change.

Feeling inspired? Visit our Biosciences webpages to learn more about our postgraduate and undergraduate programmes.

About out Department of Mathematical Sciences

Our Department of Mathematical Sciences combines world-leading research with a dedication to the learning experience of our students. Ranked 7th in the UK in The Complete University Guide 2022, we offer a unique blend of high-quality teaching and research across a wide range of disciplines and provide practical experience to support future careers and employment prospects.

Feeling inspired? Visit our Mathematical Sciences webpages to learn more about our postgraduate and undergraduate programmes.