Draft North East Cambridge Area Action Plan

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Draft North East Cambridge Area Action Plan

Policy 5: Biodiversity and Net Gain

Representation ID: 55710

Received: 03/10/2020

Respondent: Fulbourn Swifts Group

Representation Summary:

Currently the focus of Policy 5, ‘Biodiversity and Net Gain’ is understandably on green habitats away from new dwellings and on using the metric for measuring net gain. However, there is no specific reference to nest box provision in line with National Planning Guidance, although this could be covered within the very general statement:

‘Within North East Cambridge, development proposals shall take all practicable opportunities to enhance the area’s nature conservation value and ensure that site users have access to healthy, biodiverse green spaces.’

In the MKA Ecology NE Cambridge Biodiversity Assessment under Section 4.1 ‘Biodiversity Vision’ there is important content on page 25 that should not be lost with the focus on a few on site green corridors and offsite enhancement of habitat:

‘It is recognised that the higher density approach to the built environment at NEC will make the provision of widespread green space challenging. The built environment must therefore be made more permeable to nature with integrated bird and bat boxes on new structures and extensive areas of living roofs.’

Further, in this section it raises the concern that the offsite habitat enhancement should not mean that biodiversity provision is downgraded in the built environment ‘as greenspace is critical for softening the hard edges of urban areas’

Recommendations 16,19, 20 and 21 are relevant, e.g., ‘Recommendation 21: Integrated features for nesting birds should be installed at appropriate densities in appropriate locations’ page 38. For House Sparrow and Swift it is noted that these species have broadly similar requirements in terms of nesting location and the fact that both nest in colonies, and the proposal is made that a minimum of one swift brick in every building is installed at NEC to cater for both species, which is in line with current Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) guidance (reference 1).

Some of these aspects are highlighted in Government Guidance on the NPPF issued on 21 July 2019 (see below):


Paragraph 23 of this Guidance headed 'How can biodiversity net gain be achieved?' includes at the end of the first sub paragraph 'Relatively small features can often achieve important benefits for wildlife, such as incorporating 'swift bricks' and bat boxes in developments and providing safe routes for hedgehogs between different areas of habitat.'

While Swifts will travel far, if necessary, to find food, the enrichment of the habitat close to homes will attract a wider range of other birds into gardens of houses and the environment around apartments. For House Sparrows in particular hedges and shrubs for shelter are important close to potential nest sites.

Cavity nesting birds include Swifts (largely building dependent in the UK), House Sparrows and Starlings (urban birds). These species have nested for generations in older houses in holes and cavities under the eaves and in walls. However, they are in dramatic decline – Sparrows and Starlings are Red Listed and Swifts have declined by 60% in the last 25 years, so the Swift may well move from the Amber to the Red list at the next BoCC revision in 2021. According to IUCN criteria for the potential for extinction in Great Britain, the Swift is labelled as ‘Endangered’.

One big factor in the decline of all three is likely to be the loss of nesting sites through building renovation and insulation and more rigorous standards in new build homes. Further information is available in a recent article (Reference 2) reviewing the conservation status of the Swift, the growing public interest and the urgent action needed to prevent further loss by providing suitable nest sites in new developments.

Evidence is now emerging from studies being undertaken at various sites across the country that swift bricks are being used by a variety of small birds and could be described as a ‘universal’ brick for small building-dependent species. See link to a recent press release from a Duchy of Cornwall site that is in its second year of collecting data:


Across the country, Swifts, House Sparrows, House Martins, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Starlings and Nuthatches have all been recorded nesting in swift bricks.

This is also very good news for developers as it means that one brick type will provide a very cost-effective ecological enhancement for a variety of bird species. These integral swift bricks are very easy to include in routine building practices with a range of sizes and finishes to suit all types of building resulting in an inexpensive biodiversity enhancement with the nesting site confined within the brick with no access to the roof space or cavity.

At least a 1:1 ratio of nest bricks per dwelling is generally accepted now as good practice – a level of provision outlined in the award-winning Exeter City Council Residential Design Guide SPD (2010). Representatives of the RSPB South West Regional Office have been working with Exeter Planners over a period of 10 years on the implementation of the biodiversity requirements of this guide and there is acceptance that in many cases the most suitable box type for all cavity nesting birds is the integral swift brick.

A similar standard was adopted by the Town and Country Planning Association and the Wildlife Trusts in 2012 (Reference 3) and by RIBA in 2013 (Reference 1).

Examples of recent Planning Authority Guidance on the level of provision include the Oxford City Council Technical Advice Note on Biodiversity (Reference 4), which gives an ‘expected provision’ of bird nest sites for building dependent birds (i.e. Swifts) at a rate of 1 per house and 1 per 2 flats, with separate provision for bats at a rate of 1 per 5 houses. Provision of such nest bricks in schools, student accommodation and hotels is addressed by a ratio of 1 per 250 m2 floor space.


Local Case Studies:

There are a number of nest box schemes in new and existing developments in the Cambridge area, which have resulted in many pairs of successfully breeding Swifts and House Sparrows. For example, the Swifts Development, Fulbourn, where an estimated 100 pairs of Swifts (and in 2014, 9 pairs of House Sparrows were recorded) are nesting in 286 boxes (mainly in the integral ones), Edgecombe Flats, Cambridge – 34 pairs of Swifts and over 30 pairs of House Sparrows occupying 70 swift boxes – and Gunhild Way, Queen Edith’s – 20 pairs of Swifts occupying 50 swift boxes. As a result of nest box projects some villages around Cambridge have made an excellent start in re-establishing Swifts, for example Landbeach has seen an increase from 4 pairs to over 50 pairs, Dry Drayton from zero to 19 pairs and Elsworth from zero to 8 pairs. These schemes are proving very successful in enhancing the Swift population in the Greater Cambridge area at a time when there is a general marked decline across the United Kingdom.

We conclude that provision of integral swift bricks, at a ratio of at least 1:1 per dwelling with adjusted provision for blocks of flats, schools, community buildings and commercial premises is the modern standard to accommodate a range of cavity nesting birds in new developments.

We urge that Policy 5 should include specific wording on the provision of integral swift bricks in all buildings, at a ratio of at least 1:1 per dwelling, with adjusted provision of 1 per 2 flats and other premises, at a ratio of 1 per 250m2 floor space, as part of bringing nature closer to people.


1. Gunnell, K., Murphy, B. and Williams, C., Designing for Biodiversity: A technical guide for new and existing buildings, RIBA Publishing & Bat Conservation Trust (2013).
2. Day, J., Mayer, E., Newell, R., (2019), ‘inpractice’ – Bulletin of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management, Issue 104 June, p.38
3. Planning for a Healthy Environment; Good Practice for Green Infrastructure and Biodiversity. The Town and Country Planning Association and The Wildlife Trusts (2012).
4. Oxford City Council Technical Advice Note: Biodiversity – Planning Application Guidance available at: https://www.oxford.gov.uk/info/20067/planning_policy/745/planning_policy_-_technical_advice_notes_tan
Submitted by a community action team including Action for Swifts (established 1995) Fulbourn Swifts Group (established 2011) and The Over and Swavesey Swift Conservation Project 2020 working for the conservation of swifts and other threatened species in the Greater Cambridge area. We are actively involved in practical swift conservation, nest brick and nest box design, planning processes, monitoring of nest brick and nest box installations in new developments, advising commercial swift nest box designers, house designers and developers both locally and nationally.

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