New blog from Conservation Manager Stuart Benn.

The Lark Descending

12 October was Ralph Vaughan Williams’ birthday and that’s the only excuse I need to write about Skylarks.  RVW’s The Lark Ascending is amongst the most popular pieces of music ever written and it consistently crops up in the favourite selections on Desert Island Discs and is picked by a very wide range of guests.  In a recent documentary, Vic Reeves said it was the most perfect 15 minutes of music he’d ever heard and he doubted if he’d ever hear better – I’d certainly agree with that and hearing it immediately reminds me of summer days, blue skies, fluffy clouds and the sheer joy that Skylarks bring to me.

Not much to look at when they are on the ground, Skylarks are transformed when they take to the air and begin that incredible outpouring of song.  But, we have an odd love-hate relationship with them.  They enrich our lives but, once, huge numbers were killed and eaten (300 were baked in a pie to celebrate the opening of the Forth Rail Bridge in 1890).  More insidiously, they have suffered more than most from the intensification of agriculture in Britain since the Second World War.  Millions of birds lost, millions of songs unsung.


We’re deep in autumn now and heading into winter with just Robins and Dippers singing.  Spring seems like a distance away so, following the format of Desert Island Discs, here are my eight favourite British birds with their songs or calls.  Click on them for a taste of warmer days!

skylark, blackbird, song thrush, nightingale, ring ouzel, curlew, black-throated diver, golden plover

And since I’ve got about as much chance of being invited as a guest onto Desert Island Discs as Count Skylarkin’ has of becoming the next President of the United States, here would be my eight music picks!

Spinning around Kylie

King Kong  Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention

The Lark ascending  Vaughan Williams

Spiegel im Spiegel   Arvo Part

The Jezebel spirit  Brian Eno and David Byrne

I Believe in miracles  The Jackson Sisters

Naive Melody (This must be the place) Talking Heads  

Girls like us   B15 featuring Chrissy D and Lady G