In the years 1970 to 1990 the UK House Martin population declined by 38% and the species moved to the Amber List of conservation concern. Records for the 25 years up to 1990 showed that despite numerous breeding attempts the average success rate for House Martins for the whole of Orkney was only two to three broods per year. Members of Orkney Field Club believed that the low success rate was weather-related; lack of mud in the typically dry conditions of early summer impeded nest building and often, when breeding was under way, gales and rain caused nests to collapse. Eviction by house sparrows was also a problem.

So in 2001 Field Club members undertook a project to improve nesting success. Forty Schwegler artificial nests were erected on houses where the birds had habitually tried to nest but failed. In Orkney there are few houses with suitable eaves to accommodate nests and the birds tend to favour the apexes of the gable-ends of houses with a substantial roof overlap. The Schwegler nests, designed as they are to fit under eaves, have a flat roof and, when installed in a gable-end, a triangular space is created above them. It is here that the birds have tended to build rather than occupying the nest itself. It was also found that the presence of an artificial nest encouraged house martins to build nearby, sometimes abutting the artificial one.

In 2001, the first year of the project, 8 broods fledged successfully in the County, all on Mainland. In the following years the success rate showed a gradual increasewith a marked improvement to 30 in the fine summer of 2003. In that year the birds also bred successfully on Sanday and Westray. It also became evident that some nests in Orkney were fledging as many as three broods. 2008 was a landmark year for the species. New areas were colonised, new houses were built on and the birds started to expand their toe-hold in Kirkwall, the figure of 59 broods reflecting an increase of 15 over the previous year.

The Field Club does not claim that the increase in breeding success was solely the result of its project. The erection of bungalows with house martin-friendly roofs was a likely factor and possibly Global Warming. However the dramatic increase in the success-rate in the Dounby area in the early years where many pairs nested in or adjacent to our artificial nests probably kick-started breeding inOrkney as a whole. Sadly the task of monitoring breeding progress became too much for one individual and the project was discontinued after 2008. Figures for broods fledged in the period 2001 to 2008 are given below.

2001 9 2002 13 2003 30 2004 30

2005 27 2006 32 2007 34 2008 59

Annual reports of the progress of the house martin project are included in the OFC Bulletins of 2002 to 2009 inclusive.

Members of the public who would like to have artificial nests installed on their houses should apply to the Secretary on 751426. In the event of a natural mud nest collapsing any surviving young can often be saved by prompt replacement with an artificial nest.

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