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Episode 18

Saving Species, Series 1 Episode 18 of 40

30 minutes
First broadcast:
Tuesday 31 August 2010

18/40 We come back on air with a special feature about swifts recorded in the tower that legendary ornithologist David Lack studied the species. Over the run of Saving Species we have been making special features about past abundance of animals and plants in the British landscape. This week we reflect on Swifts. Swifts are often seen as the bird of the towns and cities. We hear their "chatting" call as they swirl and hawk in the sky for insects. Many are now heading south to Africa but that late summer spectacle in the UK is still with us, if you include the swallows and martins as they group up in the sky grabbing their last meal before heading south. In this programme we hear that nest site availability in the UK is as much an issue for swift survival as the many challenges they face migrating to and wintering in Africa.

In this programme we also hear about Southern Ocean Krill.

And an ancient beast living in the foot prints of cattle in Scotland - The Tadpole Shrimp.

Presented by Brett Westwood
Produced by Sheena Duncan
Series Editor Julian Hector.

  • The Swift Tower at the Oxford Museum of Natural History

    The Swift Tower at the Oxford Museum of Natural History

    Image by Sarah Pitt.


    The swift is a bird so well suited to life in the air it can barely use its legs to stand - indeed as a master of the sky it eats, sleeps, collects nesting materials, drinks and mates in the air, only alighting at its precarious nest to feed young hatchlings.

    Renowned Oxford ornithologist David Lack started his study of Swifts in 1947. He noticed they were breeding in the disused ventilation shafts on the tower of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Today the Oxford Swifts Research Project thrives and is the longest running ornithological study in the world. Saving Species correspondent Sarah Pitt went to Oxford to meet Elizabeth Lack, now in her 90’s, who worked as a Research Assistant with her husband when the project began and Roy Overall, Honorary Research Associate, who has ringed and recorded swift activity since the 1960’s. The nest boxes, initially erected by David Lack, are still at the top of the University Museum Tower; in June this year he recorded 53 active nests and 81 young being reared in the Tower.

    David Lack became one of the most influential biologists of his generation, remembered hugely for his work on swifts but also his fundamental contribution to the understanding of nature through his work at Oxford.

  • Swifts in a nest

    Swifts in a nest

    Young Swifts almost ready to fly off to Africa.

    Image by Erich Kaiser, courtesy of Swift Conservation

  • Swift in Flight

    Swift in Flight

    Swift catching insect in flight.

    Image by Amir Ben Dov, courtesy of Swift Conservation

  • Tadpole Shrimps

    Tadpole Shrimps

    Image by Brett Westwood


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