Berkshire’s Nightingale Stronghold under threat – please help now!

A proposed house building project at Theale in West Berkshire threatens one of the last places where good numbers of Nightingales can be heard singing each spring.   This iconic bird, featured in writings, poetry and songs for centuries, was once so common that lanes and streets in towns and villages all over the country are still named after them. Drastic habitat loss over the last century, however, means they are now so rare that many people have never heard them singing. Their continuing population decline has led to them being added to the Red List of Birds of Conservation Concern.

Around 50 pairs of Nightingales nest each year in a small area in Berkshire where a developer wants to build over 200 new houses, including a number of floating homes. National atlas surveys have shown that this population is one of the densest in the UK. Whilst Nightingale populations in most of the UK have been falling dramatically, the Lower Kennet is the only area in Berkshire and its adjoining counties in which this species has been holding its own. Nightingales have almost disappeared from the adjoining counties of Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, and its range in Hampshire, once a stronghold, has shrunk dramatically in the last 25 years. The Theale area has over half of the Berkshire population of Nightingales and the county population trend is upwards due to their success here.

If this development is allowed to go ahead on Theale Main Lake, it will destroy part of the habitat on which the Nightingales breed and will so disturb much of the remainder that this species, and many others, will be driven out. Nightingales nest in the thick undergrowth around the lake. The proposed development would effectively destroy most of this, by building on the west side of a lake and by profound disturbance by an influx of humans, dogs and cats along the hitherto undisturbed southern bank.  The mitigation measures proposed provide no protection against disturbance nor suitable new habitat.

Dr Renton Righelato, chair of the Berkshire Ornithological Club’s conservation group, says: “If we are serious in the UK about protecting a threatened species, then this development cannot go ahead. Build here, or indeed anywhere around these lakes, and the Nightingales will be lost. Hundreds of people and their dogs and cats, moving in next to this quiet area of thicket, will have a dreadful impact on the birds. I fear that this hitherto very successful population of Nightingales could be facing a mortal challenge.”

Neil Bucknell, President of the Berkshire Ornithological Club, added: “New housing here in this central part of a lakes and wetland corridor from Newbury to Twyford will have a severe adverse impact. This site is an important part of a designated Wildlife Heritage Site, and under both national and local planning policies such sites should be protected from any development that would threaten its wildlife. While nightingales are a particularly important species here, there are a number of other which are locally or nationally scarce, or which occur in important numbers.”

Nightingales are not the only species which would be badly affected by such a development. The same wild area also holds eight or nine species of warblers, a heronry, the lake is one of the three breeding sites in Berkshire of Oystercatchers and is used for breeding or feeding by many other wetland species, including Lapwings, another declining species on the UK’s Red list; the Little Ringed Plover, an occasional breeder that is legally protected from disturbance under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981; and the Redshank, which is declining rapidly in the south of England. Increased disturbance  at the adjacent Hosehill Lake Local Nature Reserve arising from the development will further damage bird populations.

The lake involved in the proposed development is the largest of the complex of water bodies in the Lower Kennet Valley; as well as the birds that breed on and around it discussed above, in winter it holds 2,000 wildfowl each year and has a gull roost that includes up to 15,000, internationally important numbers, of Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

“As an important Wildlife Heritage Site, there is no compelling reason why it, and the Nightingales, should be harmed given the availability of other suitable housing sites, currently under evaluation by the Council for its Housing Sites Allocation Development Plan Document, and its importance to wildlife should outweigh any attempt to promote this site to fill any interim shortfall in local housing supply.” said Neil Bucknell.

Please help us to protect this valuable site for wildlife

An outline planning application has been submitted to West Berkshire Council. The closing date for objections is Monday 13 June.

An individually worded e-mail can be sent to or a letter to Head of Planning and Countryside, West Berkshire Council, Market Street, Newbury RG14 5LD quoting application reference number 16/01240/OUTMAJ.

Or you can go online to West Berkshire Council , enter the reference number 16/01240/OUTMAJ, click the “Comments” tab, log in and make your comments.

Some points to consider in a response include:

  • Damage to a Wildlife Heritage Site
  • The loss of key Nightingale habitat and a substantial part of their population in central/southern England
  • Greatly increased disturbance by people and dogs to the surrounding lakes, including Hosehill Lake Local Nature reserve.


Press contact: Jan Stannard

Berkshire Ornithological Club contacts: Neil Bucknell  Ken Moore  or Renton Righelato

Posted by Renton Righelato 1st June 2016