Distribution Britain 1,559 (-23.7%) Ireland 595 (-29.3%)
Numbers breeding: Britain 160,000 Ireland 100,000
European status: 2,400,000 (11% in Britain and Ireland =2)
British population trend: recovering after slumps
How likely are you to record it? 192 squares (4.3%) Ranked 89 
These little brown swallows need vertical banks to nest in normally digging their own holes in soft substrates but sometimes using existing holes (usually drains). Eroded banks beside streams or rivers, on the shores of lakes or even sea cliffs are typical natural sites. Colonies of hundreds, even thousands, of pairs can settle at sand and gravel pits where the workers were, and are, often very possessive of 'their' birds. The ephemeral nature of the natural sites means that the birds are ideally equipped to exploit newly excavated sites. In areas where peat digging takes place, particularly in Ireland, the birds may use these for nesting and piles of washed sand, sawdust end even foundation excavations and rabbit holes have been used! In the last 15 years specially constructed breeding sites have been built for the birds on various reserves.
The population of Sand Martins in Britain and Ireland has undoubtedly shifted from natural to artificial sites. Sporadic breeding on the Western Isles, Shetland and Orkney seems to have stopped about 80 years ago. By 1968 a peak was reached and then, following a severe drought in the winter quarters and heightened mortality, the population dropped by two thirds or more over two years. There was a reasonable recovery but a further drop in 1984, possibly to a tenth of the peak population, again caused by Sahel drought. There has been another recovery but the BBS results (-21% not significant) may indicate that this has ended. In any event this species is clearly at risk from climatic disaster far from our shores. Outlook may be better in Britain and Ireland but uncertain in winter.
Bryant, D.M. & Jones, G. 1995 Bird Study: 42, 57-65.
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From The State of the Nations Birds
Copyright © 2000 by Chris Mead