Nature Studies: Isn’t it time the BBC broadcast the song of the nightingale again?

After ‘Tweet of the Day’, I’m sure the Corporation would be in sympathy with the idea

 

Share

One Friday night in the month of May, 2000, I went for a curry in west London with my wife and some friends, and with said curry I drank three pints of Kingfisher, the Indian beer. I am not much of a beer drinker, and by the time I staggered back to the car, at midnight – my wife was driving – I was pretty light-headed.

As we got to the car door I thought I could hear a mobile phone ringing, and as we opened it, I realised I could. It was my mobile. I had left it on the back seat. I stared at it dumbly. Why would anybody be ringing me at midnight? After I had just come out of an Indian restaurant?

My wife said: “Well, aren’t you going to answer it?”

So I did, and a voice said: “Mike?”

“Yeb?”

“It’s Chris. Listen.”

And into my ear came a flood of birdsong, a flowing river of unceasing sound, and the amazement and the wonder spread over my spirit and the smile spread over my face as I realised that here on the Chiswick High Road in west London, on a Friday night, post-curry, I was listening to a nightingale.

Live. Real. Not a recording. Singing now. The five pure slow deep notes, then the characteristic jug-jug-jug, then the machine-gun rattle, all delivered fresh and clear on the night air.

For a moment, as the alcohol fumes swirled around my brain, I thought I was hallucinating; but by no means. The bird was singing in a copse just down the road from the house of my friend, the environmentalist Chris Rose, at Salthouse on the north Norfolk coast 140 miles away, and he had heard it through his open window, wandered down to it, and simply dialled my number.

Chris’s urge had been to share it; and anybody who has heard a nightingale close up at midnight will understand that, such is thrill of the bird’s springtime song. It has excited poets such as Keats down through the centuries – it is “the most versified bird in the world”. But it is a creature and a sound which in Britain is rapidly disappearing: since 1970 nightingales in England (they’re not found in Scotland or Wales) have declined by 90 per cent.

Now, with your chances of hearing the bird shrinking by the year, Chris Rose wants to share live nightingale song again, but this time his ambition goes beyond a mate with a mobile phone. He would like the BBC to do a live nightingale broadcast every year, to the whole nation, beginning later this month.

It’s by no means a new idea; in fact, in terms of live outside broadcasts, it’s the oldest idea of all, because the world’s first-ever OB, which took place on the new BBC radio service at midnight on 18 May, 1924, was of the celebrated cellist Beatrice Harrison playing her instrument in her garden at Oxted in Surrey, as a nightingale sang along with her.

A million people are thought to have tuned in; 50,000 wrote in to the BBC to express their delight, and the broadcast became an annual event until 1942. That year, BBC engineers pulled the plug on it when they realised that the drone of RAF bombers leaving to attack Germany could be heard in the background, and they thought this might alert German spies.

The time has now come to revive it, thinks Chris, as the bird’s numbers are falling so fast that it is dropping out of people’s consciousness. He has written to the BBC Director General, Lord Hall, asking him to start the outside broadcast once again this 18 May – a week on Sunday, 90 years after it first took place – and to make it an annual event. “So many of our songbirds such as this one are in decline,” Chris says. “We need to keep a place for the nightingale in our lives.”

To back up his request, he has just started a petition on the 38 Degrees website, which you can find at http://bit.ly/1iiPFJR, and which already has more than 1,000 signatures.

I know it’s not a lot of notice, and the Beeb might not be able to manage it, although I’m sure the Corporation would be in general sympathy with the idea, not least because its award-winning Tweet Of The Day birdsong series kicked off with  the nightingale last year. If they can’t, Chris is exploring other ways of making  it a nationally live event, perhaps through the internet.

But I can testify fully to its potential worth: to hear a nightingale live at midnight, singing gloriously through the surrounding quiet, is a riveting experience, even when conveyed to you over the airwaves, even when it’s down your mobile phone, in Chiswick,  after your curry, and your three pints  of Kingfisher.

Twitter: @mjpmccarthy

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key Stage 1

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key S...

Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher We have a fantastic special n...

Tradewind Recruitment: History Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an 11-18 all ability co-educat...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee