(Please note: We will aim to keep the itinerary close to this schedule but this cannot be guaranteed)
From 18.30 we will welcome you to the site. All guests will be given a map and directions to the site in advance.
The early part of the evening can vary. Where possible we will go on a guided walk to listen to the evening chorus and identify other bird songs.
An organic, vegetarian feast, including carefully selected wines, beers, hot and cold soft drinks
The time around the fire will be a social period, however we will use the after dinner time to share some of the bird knowledge, knowledge of the landscape and area, and folklore of the nightingale and its place within history, literature and folksong. There will also be guidance into nature immersion and how to conduct ourselves safely and respectfully in the dark and the wild. This will also be a time of music sharing, prose and poetry.
Once darkness has fallen and the nightingale singing time has started (this does vary as the season progresses and night to night) we will journey through the forest and fields into the habitat of the birds. We aim to be finished around 12.30am but, of course, this all depends on the birds.
The nightingale (Luscinia megarhynches) is a small, brown, unremarkable looking bird, but it possesses one of nature’s finest singing voices. The bird winters in Africa but spends April to July mating and nesting in Europe and the Middle East. Worldwide, the population is healthy but the numbers visiting England have declined so sharply that it is now on the UK’s Red List of species of the greatest conservation concern.
The name nightingale comes from the Old English ‘nigtgale’ – the night songstress – reflecting the long-held belief that it was the female birds which sang. In fact, the best singers are the males – trying either to attract a mate or to protect territory.
One of the most memorable features of the nightingale’s song is its rich variety – taking in mellow tones, flute-like sequences and a wide array of chatters, rattles and whistles. A typical singer may use 180 different riffs while a truly accomplished performer may incorporate around 250.
A nightingale starred in the BBC’s first ever live outside radio broadcast – dueting in May 1914 with Elgar’s favourite cellist Beatrice Harrison as she played in her Sussex garden. The public’s response was so ecstatic the concert was repeated every May until 1942, when it was halted amid fears that Germany would gain military intelligence from the background noise of RAF planes.
Among the many creative icons who have referenced nightingales in their works are Homer, Ovid, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Keats, Wordsworth, Shelley, Beethoven, Liszt, Stravinsky and Hans Christian Andersen. But the much-recorded 1939 song “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” is improbable. If any bird sang there, it was most likely a blackbird!
(please note that accommodation must be booked in advance)
In our experience the night can be a late one so we recommend that you get a good night's sleep the night before. We have a suggested finish time but we can never guarantee we will end as expected, as the night can go in so many different ways. No two nights have ever been the same and we like to let the magic of what happens take its own course, rather than be bound by timetables.
All of our sites have parking in close proximity, although the distance between car park and site varies at each location.
With the late finish it can prove tricky for those who have not come by car to get home again after these events. We have been able to arrange shared taxis for guests needing transport home in previous years, and will be happy to do so again. If you are interested in this option, please let us know when you purchase your tickets.
All the events take place in natural, outdoor locations and involve some walking, which may not be suitable for people with limited mobility or special access needs. Please do get in touch with us if you have accessibility requirements and we will do our best to advise and assist. Guide dogs are welcome.
This is not such a problem. Let us know as soon as you can, and we will hold some food back for you. Please try not to arrive too late, as every part of the evening is a part of the process of dropping into the state of calm, magic and wonder.
If you are late the most important thing is to not stress about it and arrive flustered – we will welcome you whenever you make it and do our best to fill you in on what has happened. It is the inevitability of life’s demands that we can't always be on time and also the Nightingales’ fault in choosing hard to find, remote locations!
We will provide you with a suggested kit list when you purchase tickets, with the obvious need to stay warm, dry, and well shod (it can get muddy). Perhaps controversially, we also ask that you pay close attention to your clothes regarding the noise they make when you move. We practise lots of deep listening and immense stillness in the journey, and there is nothing that masks the sound of the far off landscape more than the swish of a crisp pair of trousers. Please think carefully about the stealth of your outfit and the nimbleness of your shoes.
We know from experience in the wild that the best all weather gear is actually tightly woven wool. Coats made from it are impervious to water, almost noiseless, and very warm. The grass will be dewy so waterproof footwear and thick socks are also a must. Wellies are good but make for clumsy walking. It can get very cold with lots of standing in the dark so if you want to bring a hot water bottle we can provide the hot water!
As naturally vocal as they are, the nightingales have not signed a contract with us. The birds were willing on most nights at our previous events, and we have carefully chosen sites that have well established nightingale populations. While we are not able to guarantee that the birds will sing, we have ensured that you will have a gifted artist present to entertain you, even if their feathered collaborator proves bashful.
All the venues are outdoors with limited shelter. We will press ahead with the evening unless the weather is particularly inclement. In these cases we will contact you if we feel it is not possible to go ahead. Please remember to bring appropriate wet weather gear just in case, even if the outlook is ok. The birds will often sing despite bad weather so we do see this as an all weather experience.
Our campfire feasts will consist of two courses of gourmet delights, cooked using the finest, often locally-sourced, ingredients; often flavoured with foodstuffs carefully foraged from the surrounding countryside, served in filling and warming portions. You will also be provided with a selection of wine, beer, hot and cold soft drinks, which are all included in the ticket price.
The menu is wholly vegetarian. Please let us know when you make your booking if you have any special dietary requirements (e.g. vegan option, allergies). With forewarning, we can cater for most diets!
We welcome guests bringing offerings for the fireside in the way of songs and stories. However we do recommend that instruments are thought about carefully as it gets dark and damp - a treacherous time for fragile instruments. Time for songs and tunes from guests is all dependent on how each evening pans out, and we make no guarantee that we will be able to fit you in. So please don’t feel disappointed if the moment doesn’t happen. Also, we keep the time with the nightingales only for our invited artists.
That is very much up to you and your children. Under 18s need to be accompanied by an adult, and it is a late night journey so if they don’t mind staying up then they are very welcome.
We believe firmly that this is an experience that should be accessible to all ages but we accept that many kids are not accustomed to the demands of patient listening and the experience can be demanding in its expectation of your commitment to the periods of quiet reflective listening. Each group depends on its members for that commitment to enter into a realm of guided silence and deep listening as any nature watcher would. If you feel your children may struggle with this it may be something discuss with them before booking.
This is a growing project and we are looking to expand into other sites across the UK, especially the South West. If you know of somewhere that definitely has nightingales and could accommodate us in 2019 please get in touch. We would love to know more.
Some people have asked how we determine our pricing for these events. By offering insight into the financial and administrative background required for running this project we feel guests will have a better understanding of precisely what their money is supporting.
We receive some public funding via small grants from Arts Council England's 'Grants For The Arts' scheme and from the PRS For Music Foundation. These two grants support Nest Collective's entire programme of over 100 folk and world music shows each year in London and beyond. A portion of these funds has helped us set up the Singing With Nightingales events. However, this only covers a small fraction of the total cost behind organising these events.
The SWN nights are more than guided nature walks. Each event has an on-site staff team of at least four people providing the expertise, music, safety measures and support needed (not forgetting catering and on-site care).
Leading up to the event is nine months of production by our team. Their work for the project includes finding the sites, set up, building the website, and arranging partnerships. The producers also design, organise, and fully supply each event with the necessary kit and staff teams. In addition, our marketing and PR team devote a great deal of energy to selling tickets and event promotion. This is a full time operation and we believe in paying all our staff a respectable fee for their hard work.
The balance of determining a ticket price for an intimate event (from only 15 guests at Sussex up to 30 at Grafham) that covers all production fees is a challenge. We aim to price this event as low as possible without compromising on experience or security for the audience, the site, or the Nightingales.
Although a trip to the theatre or cinema may come at a lower cost to you, we feel that our event offers a unique and powerful experience. For many, the SWN events live on as a truly transformative night out! We have worked extremely hard to ensure each event is as brilliant as it can be, picking some of the country’s best people to guide, entertain and inspire. Testimonials from former participants claim this to be an event that had profound effects and one not to be equated with specific pricing.
Some experiences in life are too precious not to try; we like to think this is one of them!
In Britain, Nightingales are a rare bird with a declining population. We put in a great deal of effort to minimise the disturbance to singing birds and maximise the awareness of our audiences to their conservation both on the night and in general. Clearly, Singing With Nightingales wouldn’t work if the audience scared Nightingales away when they approached. After four years, we can safely say that the majority of birds sing on irrespective of the audience's presence and of the music. Just occasionally, a bird will stop singing temporarily, but they invariably strike up again within one to five minutes. Individual Nightingales differ in their confidence/wariness, and over the season, we learn which spook more easily and avoid these. The birds’ reactions to our audiences are generally no different from their reactions to passing bird-watchers, sound recordists, or walkers.
Research indicates that the main causes of Nightingale decline in Britain are the long-term reductions in the amount of coppice habitat and habitat changes caused by increased deer populations. Over the last 25 years or so, habitat changes in the countries where Nightingales spend the winter have also impacted their numbers. On the positive side, there has been considerable work on improving dense habitat suitable for breeding Nightingales and in the far south-eastern counties of England, the trend is for increasing population sizes.
An important part of the Singing With Nightingales experience is to delve deeper into the conservation of wildlife at each site, focusing on Nightingales, obviously. If you are keen on this angle, you might like to choose a night when SWN’s ‘resident ornithologist’ – Tom Stuart – will be appearing, but Tom has written briefings so all our hosts can talk about Nightingale conservation. Audiences will also be introduced to bushcraft techniques (which Sam Lee taught before becoming a professional musician). Applying what you learn helps us to keep the Nightingales singing uninterrupted, and telling your friends could help the species nationally!