During the spring of 1999, over 1,000 BTO members and volunteers forsook sleep and surveyed more than 3,000 potential Nightingale sites. The survey has revealed some surprising population trends for this much-loved songster.
The Nightingale population in Britain may be at a comparatively low ebb in Britain at the moment but the 1999 Nightingale Survey indicated that it was not all gloom and doom.
Boom and bust - mixed news from the 1999 Nightingale Survey
In fact, we are delighted to report that Nightingales appear to be doing well in some areas. The preliminary total for the 1999 survey is 4,410 singing males - only 8% less than reported in the last BTO Nightingale Survey in 1980. While Kent held on to its position as the best Nightingale county, the total of 861 singing males located in Suffolk was a massive 135% higher than the 1980 total, resulting in Suffolk overtaking Sussex as the second best county. Other counties within the core range of Nightingale fared reasonably well with an increase in numbers in Essex and only modest decreases in Norfolk and Sussex.
What has emerged clearly from the 1999 Nightingale survey is that areas towards the west of the species' range are faring less well. There have been local extinctions in parts of Hampshire, Dorset, Somerset and the home counties. Nightingales have been lost from over 20% of the 10-km squares in which they were recorded in the 1980 survey and more than 70% of territories are now concentrated in the four coastal counties between Sussex to Suffolk.
Shift in habitat
In addition to the changes in the Nightingale's range, there has been a noticeable shift in habitat use over recent decades. Once a bird of woodland, especially coppice and young plantations, Nightingales are now found predominantly in scrub with over half the singing males found in 1999 residing in such habitats. The 1999 Nightingale Survey has provided some important pointers to the future of the species in Britain. The importance of scrub for this species serves to place further emphasis on the conservation of scrubby habitats for a wide range of species.