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Common nightingale (luscinia megarhynchos). Photo: gynti_46 via

Common nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos). Photo: gynti_46 via

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Celebrate 'National Nightingale Night' on May 18th

Chris Rose

13th May 2014

Britain's nightingales are in decline - not least because of intensive farming, and our insistence on building over their last refuges. But their song is as unforgettable as ever, writes Chris Rose, and that will surely be the key to valuing them more ...

It will be a tragic thing if the Nightingale ends up being remembered only in the writings of dead poets, rather than in the living memory of ourselves and our children.

Have you ever heard a Nightingale? For many it's an experience they never forget but for too many, it's now an experience they never get.

Once Nightingales were widespread, reaching as far as Wales and northern England but today they are a rare sound, having declined by over 90% since the 1970s.

Factors contributing to their decline include pesticides which eliminate the insects they eat; the munchings of introduced Muntjac deer who chomp through the thick undergrowth Nightingales need to nest in; the impacts of climate change; land-use change in their African wintering grounds; and development of their habitat here in the UK.

Lodge Hill in Kent, a Ministry of Defence site, is one of several remaining Nightingale strongholds currently threatened with development: in this case involving plans for 5,500 homes on woodland. No less than 80 Nightingales sing at Lodge Hill, over 1% of the whole UK population.

Another major nightingale site is at risk at Wineham in Sussex, where Mayfield Market Towns wants to build 10,000 new houses in open countryside. Not only Nightingales would be driven out, but also Barn Owls, Skylarks, Yellowhammers and Swallows.

Reviving a remakable BBC tradition

For the past few weeks, I've been running a campaign to bring back a former and remarkable BBC tradition, started on May 18th 1924 by none other than the first BBC Director General, Lord Reith, of a live broadcast of a singing Nightingale.

You can read about the story of that broadcast, which was so popular that it was continued ever year until 1942, at the 38 Degrees petition website. The petition asks for the tradition to be re-started this Sunday, May 18th. Please do sign it now!

On April 30th once the petition had reached over 1,000 signatures, I wrote to the BBC enclosing the names of those in support. Although I got no response, on Sunday May 11th the BBC announced via the Sunday Telegraph (with some great photos) - that 'Tweet of the Day' on Monday 19th would be a Nightingale, and that at 11pm there would be a Special Nightingale Programme.

But will it be a live broadcast?

At first this seemed like a success but at the time of writing, it's not clear whether it will in fact involve any live broadcasts of nightingales or just recent recordings, which would not be the same at all as the 1924 - 1942 traditional broadcasts that struck such a chord with people by connecting them to the magic of real live nightingale song.

It's great that the BBC are doing something to celebrate this wonderful bird and to commemorate their historic 1924 broadcast. This was in fact the first ever Outside Broadcast - and it attracted 1 million listeners and 50,000 were so moved by the song of the bird, with a cello playing along, that they wrote letters to the BBC and the cellist.

But what would be a even better is if there was a participative National Nightingale Night that lots of people can join in with. So, if you can get out on Sunday 18th May - or indeed any night before - and listen for Nightingales, please do. A great thing to do with friends, or alone.

The song of the Nightingale must not become the stuff of dead poets

If by chance you can record a Nightingale, I'll post it here on Soundcloud - and while you're there, check out the recording already there from Wineham. Maybe we can start a new tradition which will focus attention on the plight of this wonderful bird and help ensure its conservation.

Meanwhile friends at the RSPB are going to try to put a Nightingale online on Sunday. I'll tweet the link from @campaignstrat

It will be a tragic thing if the Nightingale ends up being remembered only in the writings of dead poets, rather than in the living memory of ourselves and our children.



Petition: Broadcast nightingales live on BBC Radio this May 18th.

Chris Rose is an environmental campaigner and writer, and a director of Campaign Strategy.

Books: 'How To Win Campaigns: Communications for Change' (Taylor and Francis), and 'What Makes People Tick: The Three Hidden Worlds of Settlers, Prospectors and Pioneers' (Troubadour).


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