PLANS to install nesting boxes on a Hampshire water tower have been given the go-ahead after being backed by bird lovers across the country.

South West Water has received consent to remove some of the bricks on the 83ft tower at New Milton and replace them with hollow substitutes that can be used by swifts.

The application sparked more than 80 letters of support from across the UK.

In a statement to New Forest District Council, South West Water cited what it described as the "catastrophic" decline in Britain's swift population over the past 20 years.

It added: "It is our responsibility as landowners to provide them with safe nesting sites. This is an attractive site for swifts and would almost definitely be used by them due to the perfect height of the tower.

"The provision of swift boxes on housing developments has proved to be an effective way to provide new breeding sites."

South West Water said the provision of nesting sites in another part of the town had resulted in one of the largest swift colonies in the county.

It added: "The fact that the water tower is very high - and constructed from brick - provides us with a unique opportunity to create another large-scale colony in New Milton.

"The actual act of replacing bricks with like-for-like swift bricks is a fairly quick and non-damaging operation. The front of each brick would match exactly the surrounding brickwork."

One of the 84 people who supported the application was Paul Craven, of Linford Close, New Milton.

He said: "Swifts are in steep decline in the UK. We need to do all we can to help these wonderful birds and nest bricks have been shown to be an effective way of encouraging Swifts to re-colonise our towns."

Gary Palmer, of Akeshill Close, New Milton, also urged the council to approve the application.

He said: "This is a wonderful idea to use an iconic local landmark to aid the enhancement of a nationally-important bird species."

A report to councillors said the bricks would be discreetly positioned under the eaves.

The Grade II-listed tower, which can hold 200,000 gallons of water, was built in the late 1890s on land the West Hampshire Water Company had bought from the Robb family.

During the Second World War attempts were made to camouflage the building by wrapping it in green Hessian cloth and hanging branches of evergreen trees from the top.

In 1974 the tower was declared a building of special architectural or historic interest.