Worcestershire Record No. 5 Nov 1998 p. 21


G H Green

Following public appeals etc. the following records were received during 1998. It is noticeable that the records are nearly all in the south of the county. and along the Gloucestershire border. The one exception is the Redditch record. All the central and northern woods are now without nightingales. 25 years ago the 10x10 km square SO95, which includes Trench Wood and all the neighbouring woods, was the county stronghold with at least 50 pairs - now there are none. The county strongholds are now Langdale Wood adjacent to the Three Counties Show Ground, and new scrub habitat near Strensham Sludge Pits.

Grid reference Name of site Number of singing males 1998 Remarks
SO 776473 Assarts Road, Malvern Wells 1  
SO 790430 Langdale Wood, Malvern 10, possibly more
SO 791396 Castlemorton Common 1
SO 778395 Castlemorton Common 1
SO 829485 Old Hills, Callow End, Worcester 1 Regular site for years
SO 878452 High Green 1
SO 880315 The Boat House Lower Lode Lane, Tewkesbury 1 Glos
SO 887337 (approx) near Tewkesbury 1 Glos
SO 893427 Marsh Covert near Baughton 3
SO 898478 Narrow Wood, Wadborough 1
SO 911409 North Covert, Stdensham 1
SO 913481 near Caldwell Mill, Wadborough 1
SO 918400 Stdensham Sludge PITS 5
SO 924433 Defford 1
SO 793316 Gadbury Bank, Eldersfield 2 (possibly 4) Up to 8 in past
SO 887475 near Croome Court 1
SO 914477 Deerfold Wood, Wadborough 1
SP 054362 Wormington Brake 3 (6 last year - 1997) Glos
SP 060361 Laverton Meadow Farm, Broadway 1 Glos
SP 061663 Ipsley Pool, Redditch 1
SP 064366 Rushbrook Wood, Broadway 1 Glos
SP 079374 Peasmore Farm, Childswickham 1
SP 095396 Collin Lane, near Broadway 1
SP 095393 Collin Lane, near Broadway 1
Table 1. Sites from which records were received during 1998

10x10 km square (or part) 1976 1980 1998
SO 56 1 0 0
SO 66 0 0 0
SO 73 2 0 4
SO 74 6 3 11
SO 75 2 0 0
SO 76 1 0 0
SO 77 0 0 0
SO 83 1 0 2
SO 84 2 9 7
SO 85 0 0 0
SO 86 3 5 0
SO 87 1 0 0
SO 93 0 0 0
SO 94 10 14 9
SO 95 50 24 0
SO 96 2 8 0
SO 97 0 0 0
SP 03 6 6 8
SP 04 0 1 0
SP 05 1 10 0
SP 06 - - 1
SP 07 - - 0
SP 13 - - 0
SP 14 - - 0
Table 2. Numbers of nightingales recorded in 10x10 km squares during the BTO 1976 and 1980 surveys, and reported in 1998

Table 2 gives the results of the BTO surveys in 1976 and 1980 together with the response to a general appeal for records of nightingales in 1998. The totals in the survey reports, Hudson (1979) and Davies (1982). are slightly different because the BTO received some information which escaped me, and Worcester & Hereford were lumped together, and slightly different boundaries were used. The downward trend remains the same and actually appears greater from the survey reports. These results with illustrative maps were published in Worcestershire Wildlife News (Green 1994)

Although considerable efforts were made in the two BTO surveys it is likely that the totals are lower than the actual numbers of birds simply because it was difficult to visit every likely site in early summer in one year. Similarly the 1998 results are from a simple appeal for information made in Worcestershire Wildlife News, Worcestershire Record, and through press releases taken up by the media and local radio. The media take-up was good because we made use of the BTO's National Nightingale Appeal to gain publicity. It is quite likely than the actual county coverage was better in 1998 that in the earlier years! In 1993 I guessed a population of about 20 pairs but 1998 rseults suggests a somewhat better situation.

In 1976 SO 95 way a key square with nightingales in most of the woods. In 1980 best woods were Trench (9), Goosehill (8), Grafton (6), Round Hill (5), Old Yew Hill Wood (5), Tiddesley Wood (9).

It is obvious that the county's nightingale population, as estimated by singing males, has decreased by at least half over the 22 year period. Nightingales were once much commoner in Worcestershire but have long been less frequent in the NW and W of the Severn. They have gradually decreased, disappearing first from the N and W. In this context is interesting to quote Harthan's comments:


from The Birds of Worcestershire published 1946

86. NIGHTINGALE. Luscinia megarhyncha megarhyncha Brehm.
A summer resident which is not so widely distributed as formerly. Tomes wrote in 1900 that "the Nightingale is plentiful in the valleys of the Severn, Avon and the Teme, and such parts of their tributaries as run through low and fertile places; the higher and comparatively barren region of the county are not frequented by this un-rivalled songster. But in even the most favoured spots the number of Nightingales varies greatly from year to year." As Worcestershire lies at the western limits to which the Nightingale extends, it is riot surprising that the number of birds should vary. It is found in the southern parts of the county up to a line running from Bewdley in the west to Redditch in the east. It is uncommon west of the Severn and between Worcester and Kidderminster its distribution is very patchy. The Nightingale is most abundant in the low hills that extend from the Lenches, north of Evesham to Feckenham, thence westwards to Bromsgrove. It is also fairly common near the Severn below Worcester, but strangely scarce around Bredon Hill. In May 1934 1 counted singing birds in an area of 5 by 4 miles in the Lenches. Thirty were heard in bushy land fringing woods, five in rough gardens, and six in roadside spinneys. In the north-west upland the Nightingale is rare. Thirty years ago there were 8-10 pairs in Wolverly parish but now not more than one (Beeston). It is said to occur rarely at Stanford on Teme, and is unknown around Tenbury further west. A century ago the Nightingale was said " to abound in the parish of Great Witley." In 1911 the Nightingale was thought to be increasing, but the contrary has occurred. A good example of its gradual decrease is given by Mr. Grubb, from Alvechurch, who writes, " From 1900-1910 it was not uncommon to hear four or five birds singing from my garden. A pair always nested in Cocks Croft Wood, two or sometimes three pairs in a spinney at Withybed Green, another pair in Scorsfields Dingle (near Alvechurch Station), and others in pits and spinneys between there and Tardebigge. There was always a nest between Lower and Upper Bittell, and sometimes another near the Arrow Pools. Before I left the district in 1924 I think all these had gone, but the process was gradual." Thus, the Nightingale has disappeared from many of its old haunts around the Lickey Hills, and also in the built-up areas north of Stourport on Severn; elsewhere it probably occurs as frequently as in 1900.


from A revised list of Worcestershire birds 1961

203.-Nightingale. Numbers vary each year, but has decreased since 1946. Commonest cast of the Severn, but 14 heard singing in an area of 4 square miles around Great Witley in 1948, when only one pair was found in Wyre forest some ten miles further north.


A census of nightingales in South Worcestershire in 1934

[The following evocation of Worcestershire in the early 1930's brings me near to tears - think what we have lost! - Ed]

During May 1934 I made a careful census of singing nightingales in a rectangular area approximately 5x4 miles, including some 12,000 acres. The area is NW of Evesham in South Worcestershire comprising the south portion of low hills rising to 300 feet, which extend from Birmingham and lie between the Severn and Avon valleys. Geologically the country consists of Blue Lias clay with surface drift of Keuper Marls. The steep banks facing the river valleys are wooded with oak as the predominant tree, and skirted with thickets of low bushes with thorn and gorse.

The are contains about 1,000 acres of woodland, represented by ten large woods and fourteen spinneys under one acre in area. The thorny scrubland surrounding the wooded hill slopes is about 300 acres. Probably two-thirds of the land under farming is pasture.

Altogether forty nightingales were heard singing. Each bird was checked three times between May 4th-25th and many were checked more often. The following details of distribution were noted:
Thirty birds in scrubland and gorse bushes
Five birds in gardens attached to houses. One garden lies in the centre of a village, and this is the first year nightingales (two) have been heard there.
Five birds in roadside spinneys under one acre in area
Nineteen birds sang from territories adjacent to streams of running water. The others were short distances from pools of stagnant water which, I imagine, dry up quickly.
Divided into categories there appear to be:

In the whole area - one nightingale in 300 acres
In woodland in any adjacent thickets - one in 23 acres.
In open, thorny thickets - one in 10 acres
This suggests that, in this area, Nightingales show a very marked preference for open sunny thickets of thorn, with patches of tufty grass between. Their liking for this type of territory was shared by about a dozen nightjars and grasshopper warblers. Mention of these two latter species will, perhaps, give a better idea of the area than can be expressed in words.

Some half dozen pairs used to frequent spinney woodland bordering a small estate adjacent to the town of Evesham. As the pasture near these spinneys has been ploughed up for vegetable growing , nightingales have decreased, though the spinneys remain. One was present last year, but I have heard none this year.

It is probable that the numbers of nightingales in the area is as great, or larger, than any other area of similar size in the country, owing to the large area of derelict land they favour. Perhaps other bird watchers will undertake similar surveys to afford figures for comparison.

It was repeatedly noticed that nightingales sang during the sunset chorus of other birds, but fell silent until they began again between 10.30 and 11.30 pm.

The first survey and check of the results of results obtained was done on foot or bicycle. the third check was done by bicycle and car. All took place between 11 pm and 2.30 am. The weather was calm and the birds could be heard singing from a distance of up to half a mile. A J Harthan


These reports ad emphasis to the fact that nightingales are probably mainly scrubland rather than woodland birds. The derelict countryside of the 1930's agricultural depression with over-grown hedges, woods with scrubby margins and rough pasture tumbling down to scrub undoubtedly suited them very well. Coppiced woodland, with which they are often associated, probably makes a reasonable alternative. These two factors explain their liking for Harris Woods (like Trench, Roundhill etc.) and woods decimated by forestry in the 1950s (like Tiddesley) For a period all these woods were mainly extensive scrublands.

The decline in Worcestershire, and England, is perhaps likely to be due to a much tidier, water-free, landscape, now virtually free of scrub and scrubby hedges, and also much drier: several thousand of the small pools found on Worcestershire maps early this century have gone. There also may be unknown large scale land-use or climatic factors at work in Europe or African winter quarters which are causing a reduction of nightingales of the NW edge of their range.


Very many thanks to everyone who sent in records for 1998 - please help again in 1999


DAVIES PG 1982 Nightingales in Britain in 1980 Bird Study 29:73-79
GREEN GH 1980 Nightingales in Worcestershire. Worcestershire Nature Conservation Trust Newsletter January 1980 p5
GREEN GH 1981 Nightingales 1980. Worcestershire Nature Conservation Trust Newsletter January 1981 p5
GREEN GH 1994 Focus on nightingales. Worcestershire Wildlife News No 69:14-15 April 1994
HARTHAN AJ 1934 A census of nightingales in S Worcestershire British Birds 28:50-52.
HARTHAN AJ 1946 The Birds of Worcestershire. Worcester: Littlebury
HARTHAN AJ 1961 A revised list of Worcestershire Birds. Trans. Worcs. Nat. Club p 167
HUDSON R 1979 Nightingales in Britain in 1976 Bird Study 26:204-2`12

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