Cross Gates woman's victory with bricks at huge Leeds development to stop birds becoming 'extinct'

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An amateur artist and bird lover has managed to secure changes to a major Leeds development which will help the under-threat swift population.

Helen Lucy, from Cross Gates, produced a handwritten booklet complete with drawings explaining the importance of swifts and how to help them.

Swift numbers are struggling in the UK as new houses are built and old ones are renovated. The cracks and crevices in bricks and under rooves that they rely on for their nests are dwindling.

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But after sending a version of the booklet to the developer Taylor Wimpey, the company agreed to use swift bricks in their part of the East Leeds Extension scheme, which is likely to see hundreds of new homes built in the area.

Coun James Gibson and Helen Lucy. Coun Gibson is holding both Helen's book and a swift brick.Coun James Gibson and Helen Lucy. Coun Gibson is holding both Helen's book and a swift brick.
Coun James Gibson and Helen Lucy. Coun Gibson is holding both Helen's book and a swift brick.

The bricks have holes in them allowing the small birds enough space to nest.

Retired teacher Helen only took up art during lockdown, but said the inspiration for the booklet came through a “lightbulb moment” when she was observing swifts nesting in a neighbouring old house.

Helen, 63, said: “If we don’t make provision for the swifts they will become extinct in this country.

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“This is one thing we can do to help them very easily. It’s not going to cost very much at all in terms of the budgets for the construction companies. It’s a quick win for everybody.

“The work doubles as a sort of educational booklet about swifts for everybody. I’m really pleased and proud with how it’s been received.”

Helen managed to get an initial 100 copies of the booklet published with the help of community funding from one of her local councillors, James Gibson.

A further 2,400 copies have been produced since, which have been distributed to other developers and people in the community.

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Councillor Gibson said: “This is a no brainer for developers. Helen’s been very tenacious in raising this important issue with her beautifully illustrated book.

“I’m pleased to have played a small part in helping to fund it.”

A spokesperson for Taylor Wimpey confirmed the company would use swift bricks in the extension, subject to planning permission being granted.

They said: “We are committed to protecting and enhancing the environment in the areas we build and we are working nationally to implement wildlife enhancements and habitat improvements across our developments, such as bird boxes, bug hotels and hedgehog highways.

“We are grateful to Helen Lucy for sharing her book with us.”