Friday, 14 August 2015


Nightingale - a short-lived species

NIGHTINGALE expert Graham Hopwood was in good form when he gave a talk on this iconic bird to a meeting of the Grimsby and Cleethorpes  branch of the RSPB.

He started his presentation by suggesting  that the 60 or so attendees at the Corpus Christi church hall on Grimsby Road might like to  close their eyes during  the recording he played of a bird in full voice.

He apologised that the volume - via a laptop computer -  was not louder, joking that he should have brought with him a ghetto blaster!

 Midway between the size of blackbirds and robins (to which they are related), nightingales are summer visitors from Ghana and other parts of West Africa, reaching England in April.

Males singfrom the time of their arrival until mid-June.

Alas, not only has their specialied  habitat of really dense woodland scrub almost disappeared in Lincolnshire but the south of the county is  at the northern edge of their breeding range (though it is conceivable this may expand through climate change).

According to Graham, the nightingale  population of England (it is not found or heard in Scotland or Wales)  has declined by as much as 90 per cent since 1960, making it a very rare bird, particularly  outside certain favoured parts of South Suffolk, Kent and Surrey

The 1980 Lincolnshire Bird Report, records some 100 singing males in Lincolnshire, but, by 2012, that figure had plummeted to 34 at most.

There is now only a single place in Lincolnshire where three or four pairs nest -  Whisby Nature Reserve, on the outskirts of Lincoln, where Graham is assistant warden, employed by the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust.

Since taking up the appointment 11 years ago, he has been diligently tracking the specific territories of Whisby's singing nightingales, monitoring their numbers and doing everything possible to oversee the creation of ideal nesting habitat - notably by replacing sycamore trees with thickets of really dense blackthorn and hawthorn interspersed with wild rose, bramble and nettles.

 Despite his best efforts, there is no guarantee that the reserve's nightingales have a long-term future. The population may not be sufficiently large to sustain itself, and the gene pool is unlikely to be enriched because there is no other known breeding presence of the species within 40 miles.

The nightingale is also a relatively short-lived bird - the average lifespan being no more than three years.

 Graham revealed that one of his biggest bugbears at Whisby was  the irresponsible behaviour  of a surprisingly large number of dog owners who disregard notices asking them to keep their pets on leads.

 "I like dogs,"he said. "But the attitude of some of their owners makes my blood boil.

"I plead with dog owners but many take not the slightest bit of notice. They say their dogs would never harm wildlife.

"The fact is that an out-of-control dog - spaniels tends to be the worst - can prompt a hen nightingale to leave her nest. And a vacated nest is one whose eggs are liable to fall victim to a predator."

In theory, nightingale friendly-habitat could be created in other Lincolnshire nature reserves or country parks, but such an initiative  would probably be futile - there are simply too few nightingales, and the disturbance they would face  would be colossal.

Happily, the species is common in Mediterranean Europe where the birds are generally more conspicuous and less demanding in their habitat requirements than their English counterparts.

Bizarrely, those nightingales that come to our shores seem to take on the characteristics of English people - they become retiring, reserved  and less extrovert than their Mediterranean counterparts!  

Photo: Carlos Delgadio, via Wikipedia


A CHANGE in Government policy appears to have scuppered plans for a wind farm of up to six turbines to be developed at a sensitive birdlife site off the A52 road between Skegness and Wainfleet.

Truro-based REG Windpower Ltd had pinned its hopes on securing the  backing of East Lindsey District Council for its controversial proposal on land adjacent to Coddingtons Yard off Croft Bank.

But the firm has decided to pull the plug on the project - at least for the time being - following the announcement that henceforth Whitehall is to pay greater heed than in the past  to local objections.

Subsidies are also due to be reduced for wind farm ventures.

A terse note to East Lindsey councillors - submitted in advance of the planning meeting last Thursday, when the application was due to be discussed - stated: “This application has now been withdrawn in the light of recent changes to onshore wind planning in England.”

The withdrawal will delight not just the scores of local objectors  but also  groups such as Natural England, The RSPB and the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust which had variously expressed misgivings about the potential impact on bats and birds.

The site is favoured, particularly in winter, by uncommon species of wild swans, geese, ducks and waders. Marsh harriers also frequent the area.

There had been a worry that the wind farm would have both undermined attempts to encourage a breeding return for lapwings and posed a collision hazard for nighttime migrants, including geese.

The link to the RSPB’s comments on the proposal is: