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Nightingales sing again after ninety years

16 May 2014

Grahame Madge
Senior Media Officer

Ninety years to the day since the first outside broadcast of nightingale song on the BBC, the RSPB has decided to do it all over again to celebrate the anniversary and mark the plight of the threatened, long-distance migrant bird.

Live from a site in north Kent, adjacent to the threatened Lodge Hill - England’s most important site for nightingale – a team of techies from the RSPB will record the bird’s famous song and stream it in real time from its website this Sunday night [18 May].

Dr Andre Farrar, the RSPB’s media manager and nightingale enthusiast, will be taking part the recording. He said: “Nightingales have sung their way into the consciousness of our country – popping up in literature and popular culture. Yet they are in trouble and if their decline is to be halted, action needs to be taken.


“Nightingales are long-distance migrants, facing the perils of a difficult journey to and from their African wintering home. And here in the UK, their most important site – Lodge Hill in north Kent, a Site of Special Scientific Interest – is under threat from proposals to build 5,000 houses. It seems right to mark the 90th anniversary with the nightingales in North Kent – hopefully it will help everyone realise just how beautiful and important these birds are and what we stand to lose.”

"Nightingales are in trouble and if their decline is to be halted, action needs to be taken"

Lodge Hill has been notified as a Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its nationally-important population of nightingales, an iconic bird in serious decline across England. It is the only SSSI notified specifically for nightingales. The RSPB has been fighting plans to develop this site for housing for three years.

Once an annual event featuring a songful nightingale with cello accompaniment, the BBC outside broadcasts ceased during the Second World War because of a concern background sounds, which included training war aircraft from overhead, could pose a threat if German intelligence tuned in.

Nightingales have declined by almost half (46%) in the UK since 1995 and by around 90% in the last 40 years. The migrant birds, most-loved for their tuneful song, arrive in April and leave for sub-Saharan Africa between July and September.  In the UK as nesting songbird, the nightingale is confined to southern and eastern England.


A petition asking the BBC to mark the anniversary, started by campaigner Chris Rose, who has worked for Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and WWF, received almost 1400 signatures.  Last week the BBC announced it will be broadcasting a one-off Tweet of the Day the day after the anniversary [Monday 19 May] followed by a specially-recorded programme, Singing With Nightingales, at 11pm the same day.

To tune into our live nightingale streaming from 8pm on Sunday night.


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 RSPB has been fighting plans to develop 5,000 houses at Lodge Hill for three years, find out more about the campaign here:

3. Many of our migrant birds are in trouble. Breeding populations of long-distance, trans-Saharan migrant birds have declined sharply since the 1970s.  Some species have declined in the UK by a staggering 95 per cent over the last 40 years. We need to find out the reasons for these declines and work with partners to help save them.

4. 'Our' summer visitors are, on average, here for just four months of the year. If we only focused our conservation efforts for migratory birds in that space of time, we would be missing the bigger picture.

5. These birds recognise no borders. Our 'Birds Without Borders' programme will raise awareness of the need for BirdLife International partners to work together, to integrate conservation for long-distance migrants by developing initiatives that will protect, conserve, improve, restore and create habitats across the range of migratory birds.

6. You can play a part in this story by donating whatever you can afford today to save these birds for future generations. Find out more here:

7. You can view Chris Rose’s petition for the BBC to mark the 90th anniversary here: