Get an exclusive insight into our work in the south east region and meet some of the people who make it possible.
The first nightingales have arrived at RSPB Pulborough Brooks in West Sussex to welcome the spring with their song. The little brown bird, which blends into the hedgerow but sings so beautifully, flies hundreds of miles from Africa as part of its annual migration and comes to southern England to breed.
For the last five years, the RSPB reserve at Pulborough has marked the nightingales’ arrival with a festival. It is an iconic species after all, celebrated in storytelling – Hans Christian Anderson had a dying man brought back to life by a nightingale’s song in The Emperor and the Nightingale. In Oscar Wilde’s The Nightingale and the Rose, the bird’s song is so engaging and powerful, “like water bubbling in a silver jar”, it is able to force a dormant rose to burst back into flower.
“As the light fades, all the other birds fall silent and the nightingales start to sing. It is absolutely magical and people are amazed at how much variety there is in the song and how much this little bird puts into it. If you see a nightingale singing, they are shaking with the effort of it,” said Anna Allum, visitor officer at Pulborough Brooks.
“The energy the nightingale must use to do that, after flying all the way from sub-Saharan Africa – its endurance, as well as its song, is captivating,” Anna said.
Visitors to the reserve can hear and may also be able to see the nightingales on a series of guided walks during the week-long festival in the evening and the early morning. Sometimes they are shy and hard to spot – but observers can be lucky, as the photos shared on social media testify.
Nightingales have declined by nearly half in the last 25 years. This may be due to a variety of factors, including suitable habitat being reduced by increased development, a fall in coppiced woodland and the spread of deer. Cold and wet springs also affect the numbers of nightingales and their ability to breed successfully.
So they are something to treasure and their song will lift your heart after the winter. For a chance to hear them at Pulborough as part of the nightingale festival between 26 April and 5 May, go to http://www.rspb.org.uk/events/details.aspx?id=tcm:9-235744
In full voice at RSPB Pulborough Brooks: top picture by Russ Tofts, bottom picture by Gareth Hughes
It’s all quiet on the shingle at Langstone Harbour, apart from the rumble of another load being delivered to build up the islands before the little terns arrive from Africa next month, hopefully to breed.
These tiny seabirds make the long journey from the southern hemisphere to the Hampshire and West Sussex coasts every year to build their nests on the shingle between May and June, close to the high water mark.
The nesting sites of these little birds, who only weigh a couple of ounces, are vulnerable to storm damage – winters like the last one throw the shingle around to such an extent that the staff at RSPB Langstone Harbour are hard at work at the moment trying to build up the banks on the islands.
An amber-listed species, the little terns have a tenuous foothold on the south coast, which climate change is loosening further. Increasing storms and rising sea levels mean that if they do manage to nest and their chicks hatch, they risk being washed away by the sea.
Or they may not be able to find suitable nesting sites at all because the shingle has been washed away and the islands reduced in size.
That’s an obvious effect of climate change but there are others. There is also a greater risk of unseasonable downpours which can affect the vulnerable young chicks. They absorb the rain like sponges and can die of pneumonia as a result.
More storms and any early summer cold snap, as we have experienced in the past couple of years, can also affect the availability of fish, which in turn affects the ability of the adult little terns and their chicks to survive.
Add to that the avian and mammal predators, disturbance by people shellfish collecting, windsurfing, kayaking and walking their dogs and it can be an uphill struggle to protect the little terns and their young.
The battle continues though. The last load of shingle arrives over the next week at Langstone Harbour and the terns themselves won’t be too far behind.
Pictured below: the islands at Langstone Harbour after the storms earlier this year, and building up the shingle to prepare for the little terns arrival
There’s no doubt that there are a lot of lovers of the South Downs out there. Seventy-one people entered the RSPB’s South Downs Futurescapes Photography Competition, and the judges had a difficult job picking the winners as the standard was so high.
There were four categories in the competition, Landscapes, Wildlife, Urban Wildlife and Families Enjoying the South Downs.
The competition, which was launched in October and ran until 28 February, aimed to celebrate the landscape of the South Downs with its range of habitats, stunning views and abundant wildlife.
Chris Mole, winner in the landscapes section, took an atmospheric shot of the fields above Plumpton (pictured above right) and Neil Hulme was first in the wildlife section with a beautifully detailed shot of a Duke of Burgundy butterfly at North Marden (pictured above left)
Mark Jones’s shot of a fox and a dog meeting at Tilmore Brook was first in the urban wildlife category (pictured right), and Rebecca Berry won the Families Enjoying the South Downs section with a picture of a youngster jumping against a background of colourful hang gliders (pictured below left).
The winners will be presented with their prizes on Saturday 22 March at the RSPB’s Pulborough Brooks nature reserve. The public will be able to view the images in the reserves tea room from Sunday 23 March onwards.
Here is a full list of the three winners in each section:
1st place: Rape Fields above Plumpton by Chris Mole
2nd place: First Light, Chanctonbury Ring by Martin Birchall
3rd place: Deep and Crisp and Even by Sue Povey
1st place: Duke of Burgundy Butterfly at North Marden by Neil Hulme
2nd place: Brimstone at Kithurst Hill by Julie Redford
3rd place: Mating Chalkhill Blue Butterflies, Cissbury Ring by Kenneth Turner
1st place: Fox Encounter, Tilmore Brook, Petersfield by Mark Jones
2nd place: Wheel of Life by Rich Howorth
3rd place: Treecreeper in Petersfield Garden by Judith Jones
Families Enjoying the South Downs:
1st place: The Leap! by Rebecca Berry
2nd place: Running on the Downs by Chris Mole
3rd place: South Downs Way - descending from Beacon Hill near Harting Down by Mark Jones