Adrian Thomas, our #SaveLodgeHill campaign manager, explains some of changes that have been affecting nightingales, and the work underway to help them - and how you can go and experience them for yourself in the next six weeks. And remember to send your message to Medway Council to help save Lodge Hill before 11 May!

 

Back in the 1980s, my dad was the volunteer of a nature reserve in Worcestershire that had breeding nightingales. They sang and nested in woodland where soaring oaks formed a canopy, beneath which smaller hazel trees were cut back every 7–10 years ('coppiced') on a cycle.


This traditional form of woodland management created a patchwork of habitats, with newly cut coppice full of flowering bluebells and then older coppice where the ground vegetation grew thick. And the nightingales loved it.

 

Sadly, those nightingales have long since gone, part of their devastating decline in which not only have their numbers plummeted but their range has also drastically contracted, back towards the south and east of England.

 

In fact, nightingales in woodland are now no longer the norm. Many of the few that are left now breed in dense bushes alongside wetland habitats. The birds at RSPB Pulborough Brooks, West Sussex, find a summer home down towards the floodplain in tall hedgerows and thickets; so too the birds at Kent’s RSPB Cliffe Pools and RSPB Northward Hill. In Suffolk, RSPB Minsmere's birds are not too far from the marshes there and indeed, the nightingales at Lodge Hill also like dense, sunny bushes in a sheltered damp valley.

 

Theories for the change include the fact that many woodlands aren't managed as coppice any more. However, there has also the increase in deer numbers, including the non-native muntjac, which nibble away at the dense ground cover where nightingales like to feed and nest.

 

It is understanding the nightingale's exacting requirements that allow management to be tailored to try and hang onto them or even help them increase. Our friends on the Knepp Estate, West Sussex, have done a wonderful job in their 'rewilding' project to allow scrubby bushes to develop and their nightingales are doing wonderfully as a result. And where coppiced woodland is still well managed, nightingales can thrive, such as in our RSPB Blean Woods reserve, near Canterbury, Kent, or their western outpost at RSPB Highnam Woods, Gloucestershire.

 

Hopefully many of you will grab the chance to go and see (and, of course, hear) nightingales at some of their last remaining haunts during national Nightingale Festival, which starts on Sunday, 15 April and runs until 31 May. It has been organised by a range of wonderful partners, including The Wildlife Trusts, Sam Lee's Singing with Nightingales, The Knepp Estate and the RSPB.

 

If you haven't ever heard nightingales for real, well, it's a performance you'll remember for a long time!

 

Remember to send a short message to Medway Council to ask them to save Lodge Hill and its nightingales, and stop the precedent being set for protected sites across the country. Every voice matters, and we have until 11 May 2018 to make our case.

 

On social media: Follow #SaveLodgeHill and #NightingaleFestival on Twitter and Facebook. Every retweet, share and new account you tag helps us to reach as many people as possible before the consultation closes.

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