What’s the perfect sound of summer for you? The whack of leather on willow? The call of “New balls please” from Wimbledon? The sizzle of the Barbeque? The fizz of a long, cold drink? Or the buzz of a neighbour’s lawnmower?
All of these are quintessential parts of the British Summer for me but, if you are lucky enough to have a flock of swifts descend on your neighbourhood like I am, then the sound of summer is the screech of these fantastic birds as they zoom around the sky searching for aerial plankton.
I have never known them so active around my house before.
I’ve written before about the flock of swifts (or ‘scream’ to give it the correct title) that arrive annually in my part of Maidenhead as last year, they came about a month early and I wondered if this was a sign of climate change.
This year, they were almost right on schedule and I’ve been eagerly trying to encourage them to roost in the new swift house I had installed.
I still can’t definitely say that they’ve found the two-bed ‘hotel’ that a nice chap called Bob installed for them, but one thing I can definitely say is that I have never known them so active around my house before.
How these amazing birds behave seems to depend on the weather somewhat, so I’ve always seen this as a kind of natural barometer.
When the sun is out and the ground is warmed, they can just about be seen high up in the atmosphere, which suggests that the insects they feed on are also at a high altitude.
Towards the end of the day, when things are cooling down, they fly much closer to the ground, and this is when they provide incredible entertainment – like some kind of dog fight going on purely for my amusement!
And the noise. No wonder they are called a scream! We have about 10 to 20 of them at my end of the street, and more at the other end, although they are really difficult to count as they move so fast.
Noise can be a serious distraction when you live in a built up area but for me, this natural and short-lived noise provides the fantastic backdrop to my summer.
For most of my life, I have lived in terraced or semi-detached homes, which invariably back on to others, so the summer is also a time when neighbour’s children, parties and general outdoor activity intrudes more than usual.
It's part of living in a built up area, which is why some people prefer a more remote location, but personally, I like to live in a community and know there are others around, so I'm prepared to put up with the occasional late night party - as long as I share their taste in music!
But noise is going to become an increasingly important consideration as the nation changes its heating away from the carbon-intensive gas boilers to renewable air source heat pumps as predicted by the government.
Indeed, they are estimating sales of air source heat pumps averaging one million a year by 2030, so this modern way of heating your home could potentially have an impact on noise levels in your neighbourhood.
It's not a problem if you fit a heat pump designed specifically to operate a low noise as Refurb Projects editor, Carole Titmuss has explored elsewhere. But when you do make the switch to renewable heating - which we all will eventually, then make sure you pick a quiet model that isn't going to disturb you or your neighbours.
Doing what we can
Coming back to the swifts, they have definitely been zooming around my house more regularly this year so I really hope that a couple of them have taken the opportunity that the new home provides as I feel it is seriously important that we all do what we can to mitigate our effect on the natural world.
As we update our homes, we are reducing the number of crevices and nooks that birds such as swifts can utilise for the 3 months they come to Britain to breed.
Tidier, ‘showroom’ gardens also mean less natural protection for endangered species such as hedghogs, and the lack of diverse range of planting means less choice for insects and birdlife as well.
So there are things we can all do to help encourage the natural world to share our space with us.
Whether that is going as far as encouraging wildlife by providing space for them, or leaving appropriate food out for hedgehogs, or simply taking more care around the garden and recycling as much as possible, there is something we can all do.
Make a difference
And there’s a reason we should all care and take note of wildlife as the modernisation of our environment threatens the natural habitat for many of the species that we all take for granted.
There’s been quite a bit of news recently about the lack of flies and other insects this year so far and we all know the crisis facing bees.
And as my colleague Ellina has written this week in another article on The Hub, if we do nothing, we risk profound change to not only iconic species but also the whole eco-structure around us.
It’s easy to feel powerless but this is where individuals can really make a difference. Planting the right flowers will attract bees and other pollenators, which in turn provide food for birdlife, etc. As Mufasa says in The Lion King: “It’s all part of the great circle of life”.
For now though, I’m going back to seeing whether I’ve got any tenants in my swift house.
Hang on, is that a drop of rain?
Not rain but a ‘gift’ from my aerial friends!
Oh well, they do say it’s lucky I suppose!