Nature's most celebrated singers will be performing more than 50 'concerts' in East Anglia as part of the UK's first "National Nightingale Festival" this April and May.
Hearing a nightingale should be on everyone's bucket list. It is the bird that inspired writers and poets from Keats to Shakespeare, and composers from Beethoven to Tchaikovsky. Sadly their song is disappearing from the countryside as numbers have fallen in Britain by 90% in the last 50 years and there are fewer and fewer places where it is possible to hear them.
The East of England is home to several important strongholds for nightingales, which return to these traditional breeding sites in the Brecks, on the Suffolk Coast, in Cambridgeshire and in Essex year after year.
This year, some of these special sites, together with others in the Midlands and South-East of England, are laying on an extended series of events in April and May to help people experience the most famous of bird songsters, in the first National Nightingale Festival.
The festival is a collaboration of The Wildlife Trusts, Huntingdonshire District Council, the Knepp Estate, Sam Lee's Singing with Nightingales, and the RSPB. There will be guided walks, talks, and also a series of unique events that combine live folk music and storytelling performed against the backdrop of the birdsong and the still of night. The events include performances by BBC Folk Award winner and Mercury Music Prize nominee, Sam Lee, soon to be heard on the soundtrack of the new Guy Ritchie movie "King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword".
Nightingale song has inspired so many people but these birds are found these days just in a few sites, mainly nature reserves, in south and east England, with probably fewer than 6,000 singing males left in England.
Quotes about National Nightingale Festival:
Adrian Thomas, RSPB Project Manager said: "There's something about the power of the song, the virtuosity, the variety. And of course there's the fact that nightingales keep singing when other birds settle down for the night - the song just rings out of the darkness. I hope as many people as possible get to hear a nightingale singing this spring."
Ian Barthorpe from RSPB Minsmere nature reserve: "The Suffolk coast has long been a stronghold for nightingales and it's a joy to hear them serenading us on spring mornings. Our early morning guided walks offer the perfect opportunity to listen to their melodic songs, and help us to celebrate Minsmere's 70th anniversary this year."
Louise Beary from Essex Wildlife Trust said: "It is great that so many organisations are coming together to celebrate nightingales in this way. We always put on a programme of walks here at Fingringhoe Wick, but we hope the festival will help many more people hear nightingales for the first time. We are especially excited to be one of the sites collaborating with Sam Lee and the Nest Collective for their innovative evenings of nightingales and music."
Folk singer Sam Lee, director of 'Singing with Nightingales': "Discovering the song of the nightingale was a transformative experience for me. In history and folklore it's been the muse of artists and country folk for aeons, but I was not prepared for its sorrowful elegant beauty. Learning to sing with them and bringing some of the UK's finest musicians to collaborate alongside this bird, has become a songful pilgrimage for me. It's also made me as eager to draw attention to the fragility of these majestic singers as I am to not letting the old folk songs be lost to the silence."
Matt Gaw from Suffolk Wildlife Trust said: "Experiencing a nightingale in full song is one of the world's true wildlife wonders. While it's not always possible to see them skulking in dense scrub, the fast succession of high and low notes combined with the richness and sheer volume is not to be missed. We always put on walks at our Lackford Lakes reserve near Bury St Edmunds, but with all these organisations coming together to celebrate nightingales, hopefully even more people will now be able to enjoy the ultimate spring songster."
Caroline Fitton from the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire said: "The Trust is thrilled to be hosting outdoor Singing with Nightingales evenings with Sam Lee at Grafham Water nature reserve - they're set to be unique and exhilarating; and a great chance to share details of nightingale habitat and the tagging project run in collaboration with the BTO using geolocators which track nightingales back to their overwintering grounds in sub-Saharan Africa, giving invaluable data about their migration routes. To be in a wood in darkness hearing exquisite nightingale song close up is guaranteed to be a very powerful and memorable experience."
Venues for National Nightingale Festival events in the East of England this April and May:
- Essex Wildlife Trust Fingringhoe Wick
- Suffolk Wildlife Trust Lackford Lakes
- RSPB Minsmere nature reserve
- Grafham Water (managed by the Wildlife Trust for Beds, Cambs and Northants on behalf of Anglian Water)
- Paxton Pits in Huntingdonshire
In Suffolk, RSPB Ipswich Local Group volunteers will be putting on a series of outings to various sites around the county where people can hear nightingales singing.
RSPB Ipswich Local Group leader Chris Courtney: "The return of our precious nightingales remains a talismanic event in nature's calendar. Those first liquid and sonorous notes are magical to behold. We simply must all work together to celebrate and protect this wonderful but sadly threatened bird."
To find out about all the events in the first National Nightingale Festival visit www.rspb.org.uk/nightingalefestivalLearn more about nightingales with the RSPB's online bird guide: www.rspb.org.uk/nightingale
Broadcast media opportunities:
National Nightingale Festival offers some fantastic opportunities for TV and radio broadcasters, from live or recorded outside broadcasts in one of the places where male nightingales can be heard singing to attract a mate, to interviews with National Nightingale Festival partners including folk singer Sam Lee of Singing with Nightingales.
1. The RSPB is the UK's largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.
2. The events that are under the banner of National Nightingale Festival are organised in Gloucestershire, East & West Sussex, Kent, Essex, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire by: RSPB, Kent Wildlife Trust, Sussex Widlife Trust, Essex Widlife Trust, Suffolk Wildlife Trust, Knepp Safaris, Huntingdonshire Borough Council, Birkbeck University, Sam Lee & The Nest Collective (Arts Council funded). Most events require advance booking. www.rspb.org.uk/nightingalefestival
3. 'Singing with Nightingales' is a production of the London-based The Nest Collective, a BBC Folk Award-winning promoter of folk, world and new music performers, set up by set up by folk musician and nature lover Sam Lee in 2006. thenestcollective.co.uk/shows/sam-lees-singing-with-nightingales-2017
4. The dramatic decline of the nightingale in Britain is thought to be due to a variety of factors, including changes in woodland management, deer browsing the cover they need, climate change, conditions in their African wintering grounds, and development. The largest population of nightingale in England is under threat at Lodge Hill, Kent. This is a Site of Special Scientific Interest designated specifically for its nightingales and yet Medway Council has proposed to allocate the land for the development of up to 5,000 houses, which would destroy 80% of the nightingales' habitat there and set a dangerous precedent for protected places everywhere. To find out more visit https://www.rspb.org.uk/savelodgehill