Meet Ely man John Stimpson who has made nearly 20,000 swift boxes

PUBLISHED: 10:26 09 November 2019

Ely man John Stimpson is just 174 swift boxes away from having made a total of 20,000 that he will reach by the end of this year. Here, he is pictured in his workshop. Picture: HELEN PLETTS

Ely man John Stimpson is just 174 swift boxes away from having made a total of 20,000 that he will reach by the end of this year. Here, he is pictured in his workshop. Picture: HELEN PLETTS

Archant

When I first spoke to Ely man John Stimpson, he told me that he was only 174 swift boxes away from a grand total of 20,000 that he will reach by the end of this year. That's 12 busy years of retirement after years on the road, previously, as a horticultural salesman.

Ely man John Stimpson is just 174 swift boxes away from having made a total of 20,000 that he will reach by the end of this year. Here, he is pictured in his workshop. Picture: HELEN PLETTSEly man John Stimpson is just 174 swift boxes away from having made a total of 20,000 that he will reach by the end of this year. Here, he is pictured in his workshop. Picture: HELEN PLETTS

John is as tenacious as any migrating swift when it comes to swift box building and lucky too, as he shows me the deep slashes in the workshop door frame from a spinning saw blade which once broke in two.

He jokes that he still has four fingers and one thumb on each hand which is a miracle on its own.

John's significant contribution of thousands of homes to our planets' swift population was no secret to swift lovers but had escaped the wider attention it deserves, particularly now as we face up to the struggle of climate change and the harsher environment our nature faces.

It is a comforting thought to those of us wanting to help to support nature that thousands of swift boxes are already out there providing swift homes, a testimony to his dedication.

I came to John about homes for swifts but he was half way through constructing a barn owl box on the day of my visit and he also builds homes for sparrows and hedgehogs too.

His workshop is organised, without over-complex mechanisation; each box is handcrafted.

So the 20,000 is even more of a feat when you start to realise the amount of work that goes into producing each wooden box, to a specific design, complicated by the need for a slanted structure, to facilitate a free draining plastic roof.

John's swift boxes are reasonably priced wildlife enhancements which can easily be fixed to existing buildings.

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New boxes are best fitted between September and March in readiness for the breeding season.

John told me that some boxes had even been fitted by local fire stations as part of ladder training exercises.

A common swift, in its lifetime, travels between the UK and Africa and flies over about two million kilometres; much further than the distance to the moon and back. Weighing less than a hen's egg, they eat and sleep on the wing.

Swifts mate for life, returning each year from Africa to the same nest site. Traditionally, they build their nests in spaces under roof tiles and in the eaves of old houses and barns.

But as we knock down and seal up older buildings and build modern, airtight houses swifts are short of safe places to lay their eggs before their breeding season is over. Here, the swift box is a marvellous solution.

Ideally the swift boxes should be on a north facing wall, five metres high, if possible, with no trees or wires to hinder access.

John's boxes have been successfully fitted lower down on the gable end of houses, particularly under the eaves.

Swifts love living in colonies so putting up more than one box can be beneficial.

Visit www.swiftconservation.org to find out more about how you can provide a home for swifts.

Or contact John Stimpson via 01353 740451 or j.stimpson1@btopenworld.com for boxes and more advice about where to find them.

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