Grafham nightingales tagged in bid to halt decline in numbers

A nightingale being tagged at Grafham Water.

A nightingale being tagged at Grafham Water. - Credit: Archant

Numbers of nightingales in the UK have dropped by over 60 per cent in the past 15 years, prompting a scheme to fit the birds at Grafham Water with tiny locator tags.

The migration patterns of nightingales are still largely a mystery to scientists, so the British Trust for Ornithology has teamed up with Anglian Water to fit the tags to shed more light on the subject.

Over the next two weeks, the BTO and Anglian Water, who have been working together on this project for two years, will be attaching the new lightweight tags to the birds at Grafham Water reserve, where the habitat is managed by the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife Trusts.

The tags weigh one gram each and scientists have carried out tests to ensure they do not affect the welfare of the birds.

The BTO’s Paul Stancliffe said: “Being able to track these birds as they move between Africa and Grafham Water, seeing the routes they take, where they stop to rest and feed, and for how long, would have been the thing of dreams only a few years ago.”

Anglian Water wildlife scientist, Mike Drew, added: “Alongside the BTO, we have already gained real insights into the migration of this enigmatic bird.”

As the nightingale population in the UK continues to fall, habitat degradation has been cited as a large part of the problem. To coincide with this year’s tagging operation, the BTO has just released its guide to managing habitats for nightingales.

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“A lot of land isn’t managed in the way it used to be,” said Wildlife Trust BCN officer Aidan Matthews. “At Grafham we clear the scrub down until it lays flat. This keeps it really dense and really helps them.”

The resulting data won’t be available until next spring, but the detailed route maps it produces should prove fascinating.