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It’s a little-known fact that, along with only two or three other sites in the UK, Swifts - Apus apus, have been using the fissures and crevices in the monolithic Lewes Castle – the eastern sentinel of Fall Bay, for generations.

Swifts are declining nationally and under threat from many agencies, mainly from building development and climate change, but this unique colony has its own unique threat – that of rock-climbers scaling the cliff faces where they nest. However, it has been only since recent diligent observation by Gwyn Thomas of Middleton that the precise nest sites have been identified.

Armed with this accurate information, the National Trust, under Mark Hipkin, has been able to impose a full climbing restriction on the Western and Southern faces of that cliff for the period of May to Mid-August, the Swifts’ nesting season. This is now proposed to be an annual ban, along with other restrictions already in place to protect other cliff-nesting species. It follows a precedent set decades ago when Gordon Howe, and others, succeeded in securing a ban on Yellow Wall in Devil’s Truck to protect the (then) nesting Kittiwakes and later, Peregrine, Chough and Raven, all using that site and very vulnerable to climbers.

The whole epic has been the result of considerable effort on Gwyn’s behalf, and of close collaboration with myself and Nick Davison who helped with photography. The National Trust is to be commended for quickly recognising the issue.

The composite photograph illustrates the overall site of Lewes Castle, with climbers having scaled the nesting face and others preparing below. A detail out of the nesting cliff shows 3 Swifts about to enter the fissures.

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