Today’s blog title misquotes John Keats from his Ode to a Nightingale. This year was the BTO’s National Nightingale survey – a periodic stock-take of the light-winged Dryad of the trees.

But sadly over recent decades the music of nightingales has fled from much of our verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

OK, enough of the Keats.

I took on a tetrad – a word, of which, I suspect Keats was unaware, but basically a 2km x 2km square of rural Bedfordshire. Though I listened, none did I hear.  We will have to wait a little while for the BTO to crunch all the numbers (and ‘0’ is still a number) and reveal the current status of nightingales in England (the only part of the UK where they breed).

But recent trends have been dispiriting with numbers falling and range contracting – Breeding Bird Survey results show nearly 6 out of 10 nightingales have been lost between 1995 and 2009.

But in one place the trend has been bucked – on Kent’s Hoo peninsula (yes the place being eyed up as a four runway airport + associated infrastructure, but that is a different story) preliminary results from this year’s survey have revealed that the Hoo Peninsula is a national stronghold for nightingales.

Around 150 nightingales were giving it large (and you can here just one here) on the peninsula this spring, almost double the number found during the last national survey in 1999.  This makes the Hoo Peninsula one of the bird’s strongholds in Kent and, indeed, nationally.

A nightingale; singest of summer in full-throated ease - but for how long? Picture John Bridges RSPB Images

The key areas were at Lodge Hill near Chattenden, and the area between Higham, Cliffe and the RSPB’s reserve at Northward Hill.  With 84 singing males, the Lodge Hill area looks like it is one of the most important in Kent and possibly the whole country.

So much for the good news.

 The reason the BTO pulled out all the stops and made available this preliminary assessment is because of the threat from a plan by Medway Council to build up to 5,000 houses at Lodge Hill. You can read more about this case here.

Our regional director for the South East, Chris Corrigan, is clear about the risk, “Most of the nightingales are found in the proposed development site, a development that would wipe out their habitat.  Recreational disturbance and predation by domestic pets mean the remaining nightingales in the adjacent Chattenden Woods Site of Special Scientific Interest would be very badly affected.”

“We objected strongly to the development at the recent inquiry into the Council’s plans and urged them to reconsider their plans.  We find it astonishing that a site that is so important for a rapidly declining species is earmarked for development.  This is precisely the kind of magical place for wildlife that the Council should be protecting for the nation.”

Chris went on to say, “The Council and the developers have claimed they can create new habitat for nightingales, but this is untried and untested – we simply should not be taking a risk with somewhere this important.”

“Now that the true value of Lodge Hill has been revealed we are calling on Medway Council to withdraw its damaging proposal and instead work with the RSPB, other conservation bodies and the local community to celebrate Lodge Hill and the Hoo Peninsula; this place is one of the natural wonders of Kent, the nightingale was celebrated by Keats and Shakespeare and should be protected for the inspiration of future generations.”

For 2012 the breeding season for nightingales is over, their plaintive anthem has faded for another year.  How safe will be their white hawthorn and pastoral eglantine? That is the question that must now be answered.

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