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What is a Nightingale?

The nightingale is one of our most iconic birds. It is a small but robust, broad-tailed, plain brown bird, renowned for the beauty of its complex song which can be heard day and night. Nightingales are migratory and return from their wintering quarters in West Africa in April to nest in thick, dense scrub, often returning to the same place to breed.

Why is the Nightingale important to the Surrey Hills?

The nightingale is a red-listed species, protected by the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act. The Breeding Bird Survey shows a decline of 62% in England between 1995 and 2017. Reasons for this decline include the loss of suitable habitat in the UK through deer browsing and reduced woodland management, along with possible pressures on migration routes and habitat degradation on the wintering grounds in Africa.

What habitat does a Nightingale like?

Thick dense scrub.

Scrub (native shrubs) is important for providing food for wildlife in the form of pollen, nectar, seeds and berries. It also provides nesting habitat for birds and small mammals in the spring and summer and shelter in winter. It is important both as a component of the woodland structure and as a stand-alone habitat.

What can be done to benefit the Nightingale?

Good management of the Nightingale’s preferred habitat of woodland and scrub will encourage this species.

Opportunities to improve suitable habitat for this species include:
  • Thinning trees to encourage the development of the woodland shrub layer
  • Rotational cutting of woodland rides and glades.
  • Encouraging scrub development along woodland edges and in field corners
  • Controlling deer
  • Allowing hedges to grow taller and wider
  • Developing grassy field margins.

Improved habitat for nightingales also provides opportunities for other species such as the purple emperor, barbastelle bat and silver-washed fritillary, their presence indicates well-managed woodlands in good condition.


Creating and managing areas for the Nightingale will help deliver the following benefits to communities:
  • Clean water
  • Clean air
  • Protection from and mitigation of environmental hazards
  • Mitigation of and adaptation to climate change
  • Thriving plants and wildlife
  • Beauty, heritage and engagement

These illustrations are by an artist taking part in a programme delivered by Watts Gallery Trust and funded by the Michael Varah Memorial Fund. This series of 30 Surrey Hills Indicator Species were commissioned by Surrey Hills Society and funded by Surrey Hills Trust Fund as part of the Making Space for Nature Exhibition.