In early 2022, the committee decided that DNATS could support other local projects that fulfilled some of the aims of the society, as set out on the ‘Home’ page of the website. Two such projects were proposed for consideration; ‘Dating of the Bog-oak Chair’ and the ‘Smeaton Swifts project’.

Colin Howes, the author of the article ‘Doncaster’s mayoral bog-oak chair’ which appears in the Doncaster Naturalist Volume 3 (2): 67-72, has provided the following information on the Bog-oak chair. The timbers were acquired in 1848 during the excavation of a drain from the parish of Arksey, into the tidal Don, downstream of Doncaster. The chair, commissioned by William Chadwick, Squire of Arksey was created by the cabinet maker George Collinson and exhibited at the Great Exhibition in 1851. In 1901 it was presented to the County Borough of Doncaster to commemorate Edward VII ascending the throne. It has spent most of its existence in the Mayors parlour at Doncaster’s Mansion House but since the 1990s it has been on display to the public at Doncaster Museum.

Colin is at present in negotiation with the Doncaster Local Authority and its Museums Service for access to the chair and for permission to take the required core samples or to prepare the required surfaces necessary for the dating process. Currently there is no time table and any future progress depends on gaining positive responses from appropriate DMBC departments and staff and from raising funds from interested parties.

Here is an update on the 31 March 2023.

Details of the Smeaton Swifts Project was provided by Joyce as follows : –

Paul Simmons and Dave Williamson organised nest boxes for Swifts in the Kirk Smeaton Church tower 5 years ago. This was funded by a generous local resident and a donation from the Smeaton Magazine committee. The project has gone so well that almost all the nest boxes are occupied, and 11 out of 11 eggs laid successfully fledged this year. There are 14 nest boxes, and young swifts which hopefully will breed next year have shown an interest in all the vacant boxes. This leaves us with the dilemma of putting up boxes matching the 14 in the opposite side of the tower. The funding is the problem as we will have to employ a joiner, Paul and Dave being only competent to assist. We will need to buy good quality materials so that the nests will last. We intend to ask the magazine committee for a donation, but they have been delivering the magazine free throughout lockdown, so probably won’t have funds to offer. We will also use some of the funds which we raise through Brockadale meetings, but there is still bound to be a shortfall in funds.

The following account of the Smeaton Swift Project has been provided by Joyce :-

The Swift colony in St Peter’s Church, Kirk Smeaton has done extremely well since boxes were installed in the west window of the church tower in 2016. In 2021 eleven out of the fourteen boxes were occupied with fourteen youngsters fledging successfully. This fantastic progress has exceeded all our expectations and we think it is fair to say this has saved the Smeatons Swifts from disappearing altogether.

As we are nearing the capacity of the existing boxes, we are keen to increase their number. The church authorities have kindly given us permission to do so – just imagine the prospect of having 50 or more Swifts wheeling over the villages in a few summers time! Ideally, we would like to complete this work before the Swifts return in May 2022.

The committee decided to join with other interested parties in supporting the Smeaton Swifts Project project and provide some of the funds required. The Bog Oak Chair project is still awaiting the outcome of Colin’s negotiations.

Here is a link to a reply from Dave Williamson & Paul Simmons January 2022 regarding the ‘Smeaton Swifts Project‘.

Please note that it is not possible to visit the site.

Many thanks for your support.

Regards, Dave

Update on Swift Project from Dave Williamson – 23rd May 2022

I wanted to update you on the Smeatons Swift nest boxes. You will be pleased to hear that this morning Paul and I completed the installation of 16 new boxes in the church tower bringing the total number to 30 boxes. Your very generous donations, both personal and that from the Doncaster Naturalists Society, have helped fund the materials and fittings that we needed to construct and install the boxes.

The Swifts arrived back in Kirk Smeaton on 11th May and some have been seen entering the original boxes. We even had one in one of the new boxes which was a surprise so soon after we’d installed them! We don’t expect any to nest in the new boxes this year but hope that any young birds returning from last or previous years that have not yet bred will inspect the new boxes and return next year to breed and so continue to expand the colony.

Update on Swift Project from Dave Williamson – 10th June 2022

I checked progress on the Swifts in the church tower on Friday 10th June and can report as follows:

6 of the original 14 boxes definitely occupied – 4 with 3 eggs each, 1 with 1 egg and the other with an adult bird present so unable to determine number of eggs. 3 of the other boxes appear to have been visited but no eggs as yet. There is still time for some late starters to take up residence and start laying so the number of occupied boxes may increase further. 

Last year we had 11 of the 14 boxes occupied and all the chicks from the14 eggs that hatched fledged successfully. It would be a bit disappointing if the number of boxes occupied dropped from last years total but it’s been a funny spring for migrating birds with cold easterly and northerly winds persisting at times and so this may have affected things. On a more positive note its good to see the number of pairs that are producing 3 eggs and so if they all hatch and prosper we could still end up with more youngsters fledging than last year.

The 16 new boxes are unoccupied as expected at this stage but are ready for prospecting birds to check them out through the summer, so if you see any visiting these boxes which are situated behind the louvres on the west side window (i.e. below the original boxes which are behind the ornate stonework at the top of the window) please let me know.

Update on Swift Project from Dave Williamson – 23rd June 2022

I have checked the Swifts again and the good news is that 11 boxes (of the original 14) are now occupied as follows:
5 boxes with a total of at least 11 chicks (plus one discarded egg that won’t hatch)
4 boxes with a total of at least 8 eggs
1 box with nesting material added but no eggs laid as yet
1 box occupied by a pair of adults but no ‘nest’ or eggs as yet
3 boxes unoccupied
As expected and advised previously the 16 new boxes are unoccupied ready for prospecting birds to use in future years.
I will check again in a couple of weeks time and let you know how things are going.

Update on Swift Project from Dave Williamson – 10th July 2022

I checked progress on our Swifts again last week and I’m very pleased to report the following:
5 boxes with a total of 12 chicks all of which look to be doing very well.
3 boxes with adults incubating or brooding – from previous checks these should have 6 eggs/chicks between them.
3 other boxes occupied – “nests” built or adults present but no eggs or chicks as yet – maybe next year?
So 11 boxes occupied and hopefully up to 18 chicks in total if the rest of the season goes well (compared to 14 successfully fledged in 2021).

Update on Swift Project from Dave Williamson – 21st July 2022

I checked the Swifts this morning and you will be pleased to know that:
9 chicks have successfully fledged so far
9 more chicks remain in the boxes and seem to be doing well – hopefully they will all fledge successfully too
If all of them do fledge successfully then the total of 18 will be our best ever (cf. 14 last year).
Of the 9 remaining 5 are well grown and should depart very soon – you can see in the photo below that their flight feathers are now very long and ready for action!

Update on Swift Project from Dave Williamson – 25th August 2022

Dear Swift Supporters,
I am delighted to report that the last of this years Swift chicks left in the last few days. This means that all of the 18 that hatched this year have successfully fledged and will now be on their way to Africa. This continues the successful growth of our colony from the 14 that fledged last year. We hope that next year more birds will join and use the new boxes we installed earlier this year.
Best wishes,

Update on Swift Project from Dave Williamson – 23rd June 2023

I checked progress with our Swift colony yesterday, Sunday 19th June and the news is good!

Of the 8 boxes where pairs nested and successfully raised young in 2022 all are occupied with nesting pairs again this year. In addition 2 of the 3 boxes that were visited by prospecting birds last year are now occupied by nesting pairs – the other box has been visited again this year but no clear signs of nesting as yet.

So in summary we have 10 boxes with nesting pairs this year, an increase of 2 over last year. Hopefully more prospecting birds will visit over the summer and come back to nest next year and keep our colony growing!


Update on Swift Project from Dave Williamson – 30th June 2023

I have checked the Swifts in the church tower today. 

Firstly some sad news in that I found a dead adult in one of the boxes – together with it’s (live) mate and 2 chicks. Happily the latter 3 looked fine though I’m not sure whether one adult will be able to successfuly raise the 2 young on its own. We may lose them but time will tell. 

On a much more positive note the colony is otherwise doing well and has 10 boxes actively occupied with either young or eggs still being incubated. There are a total of 20 chicks with some just hatched and others growing fast! There are 3 eggs are still being incubated. 

Hopefully there will be enough food available for them during the rest of the season – it would be great if we ended up with 20 or more young Swifts fledging this year!


Update on Swift Project from Dave Williamson – 30th August 2023

You will be pleased to know that the last of the young Swifts of 2023 left St Peter’s Church for Africa in the second half of August bringing the total that have successfully fledged this year to nineteen. This is one more than in 2022 and particularly pleasing given the rather slow start with the cool north-easterly winds we had in the Spring. Ten nest boxes were active and produced young giving an average of 1.9 young successfully fledging per box. Apparently this productivity compares well with other colonies in the UK. Similar projects have been carried out in many churches across the country and so hopefully these efforts are collectively helping to slow the decline (over 50% in the UK the last 25 years) of this wonderful bird. We look forward to their return next May and hope that our colony has a successful season once again.


Smeaton Swifts Update 8th June 2024

Unseasonably poor and stormy weather in southern Europe earlier this Spring seems to have affected the northerly progress of some migrating birds including Swifts. I did wonder how our Smeatons Swifts had fared and whether after year-on-year improving success at our colony we would suffer our first set-back. However our Swifts started returning from early May – in dribs and drabs in contrast to the more concentrated return in 2023 (apologies to the Editor for my prediction of a 9th May return!). By the middle of the month up to 8 birds could be seen flying around the church tower, a very welcome sight!

I checked the nest-boxes in the church tower on the 8th June and I’m delighted to report that 12 boxes were occupied with a total of 18 adult birds present (one nest where the adults weren’t present contained 3 eggs – see photo). This compares to 10 boxes being occupied in 2023. These boxes are all in the original banks of 14 boxes at the top of the west window. There is no evidence yet of any activity in the newer 16 boxes behind the louvres below. Perhaps these newer boxes will not be used until all the original boxes are spoken for?

Swifts normally lay 2 to 3 eggs and incubate them for 3 to 4 weeks. The chicks spend between 5 and 8 weeks in the nest before they fledge and since the Swifts first nested in the tower the number of young successfully fledging has increased each year with 18 in 2022 and 19 in 2023. Let’s hope they have another successful season!