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Nightingales - the sound of spring



Here in Shadoxhurst, it’s less ‘the hills are alive with the sound of music’ and more ‘the woodland is awash with the sound of wildlife’ and April and May offers a very special treat: the song of the nightingale.

Each spring, a few thousand nightingales fly to the UK from Africa and take up temporary residence at a handful of locations in the south of England. We are incredibly lucky that the area around Green Farm offers ideal conditions for these secretive creatures who love to hide away in dense woodland.

As other wildlife settles down for the night, this little brown bird’s trills and whistles ring out. Its song is impressive in both tone and volume and can be heard nightly for around six weeks from mid-April through to the end of May.

Have you heard a nightingale sing? If you have been to one of our special night-time events you may well have done. It is a privilege to share their space and listen to their call but sadly, the nightingale population is in decline; their famous song is disappearing from Britain’s landscape.

Over the last 50 years nightingale numbers have fallen by over 90%. Fewer than 6,000 pairs are thought to remain. Before the second world war, nightingales were the "sound of spring" for nearly half the rural population. They could be found anywhere south and east of a line from the severn to the humber and in a few pockets north and west of this line. This was the western edge of their summer range which spread right across Europe as far east as Afghanistan and western Mongolia.


They are now restricted pretty much to Kent, East Sussex and South Essex, with just a few pockets elsewhere!



Only in England are we seeing this level of decline, but why? The main reasons are pretty well understood including, of course, the pressure on habitats from developments. However, these have even more impact:


  1. The huge increase in the deer population in middle England. Without deer hunting and poaching, the number of deer has exploded. They eat the new shoots of the brambles and thorns that protect the dense thickets in which the nightingales nest. The poor birds don't feel safe, so they don't breed

  2. The lack of the ancient art of coppicing, the practice of cutting down most of the trees in an area to harvest the wood sustainably. This allows the forest to regenerate from the ground up, with the woodland floor, now exposed to sunlight, bursting into life. The brambles and thorns come back first and, after about 5 years, provide the ideal habitat for nesting nightingales. The big trees (in our case, mostly hornbeam) grow back through and, after 30 or 40 years, shade out the brambles. Unmanaged woodland has very little ground cover because the canopy shades out the growth

  3. Modern farming practices carry a lot of the blame. Pesticides, insecticides, overuse of fertilisers, mono-crop fields and everything else that has been practiced in industrial agriculture since the war has decimated our biodiversity, including our insect population on which everything else depends

  4. Other causes, further afield, are loss of habitat in sub-saharan Africa where they winter and the continual small bird shooting that goes on in souther Europe during the migration


Here in our green corner of Kent, we are working closely with our neighbours and Kent Wildlife Trust to ensure we continue to offer nightingales a warm welcome. Green Farm lies within a designated local wildlife site and we take very seriously our responsibility to improve the quality of the habitat and educate our human guests about our wild residents and visitors.


These birds have been coming to our wouudland for, probably, hundreds of thousands of years. Let's keep welcoming them. If you are interested in coming to one of our special Nightingale dining experiences, listening to the Nightingales in the forest after a special campfire dinner, please click here


Our own wonderful songsters, Kelly & Gemma, will be singing round the fire on Saturday, April 27th and then running their singing workshop the next day. Why not join in that as well.

Image by: wal_172619 (Pixabay)

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zad sa
zad sa
Apr 11

nice

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