The Italian Almanac

hungry little swallows

Housing Needs

A town on the island of Elba has become the first in Italy to compel architects and builders to cater to the housing needs of swallows and swifts in all construction and renovation projects. Marciana, one of the largest towns on the Tuscan island, has approved an amendment to municipal regulations designed to make it easier for the two migratory species to find nesting spots. Under the rule, anyone restoring rooftops or constructing new buildings must ensure that the first row of roof tiles has a hole granting birds access.

Swallows and swifts have lived in buildings alongside humans for hundreds of years. Both like high holes, which they find it easier to launch themselves from, but swifts prefer houses and churches, while swallows favour barns and farm-buildings. But the numbers of both birds have plummeted across Europe in recent years, partly as a result of changes in architectural styles.

New buildings are no longer constructed with holes in roofs and walls, while old structures have these features covered up following renovation. "Transformations in building practice are the main cause of the drop in numbers of these species, which have nested in human buildings in towns for centuries," said Marciana Mayor Anna Bulgaresi. "This decision by our council, the first of its kind in Italy, is intended to make a positive mark".

In addition to requiring new and renovated structures to leave space for swallows and swifts, building owners will be prohibited from covering existing access points. The council has also agreed on incentives to encourage builders to use rough plaster on exterior walls, which makes it easier for the birds to build nests.

Commenting on the decision, the head of the National Archipelago Natural Park, which covers the entire island of Elba, expressed her delight.