Nightingales return to Swan Barn Farm


Once a common defining sign of spring, the nightingale’s chorus is now rarely heard. This was true at Swan Barn Farm in Haslemere until Matt Bramich, National Trust Senior Countryside Ranger, was stopped in his tracks by the rich song of a nightingale one spring evening.

The nightingale has become a real conservation concern with breeding populations estimated to have dropped by 90% since 1960. Arriving in the south of England in mid-April from West Africa, nightingales are in search of suitable breeding habitat. The conservation management of Swan Barn Farm by our Rangers has provided this globally threatened species with ideal conditions to thrive.

Nightingales require a particular type of habitat made up of woodland, woodland edges or scrubby margins often near fresh water. The dense thickets and scrub provide sanctuary from predators. Every environment is dynamic and conditions only remain suitable for a limited period of time unless sensitively managed. At Swan Barn Farm the rich grass meadows are lined with hedgerows, ancient woodlands and hazel coppice. Where hedgerows had been lost, these have been replanted with native species such as blackthorn, hawthorn and dog rose, all known to be favoured by nightingales.

Hedgerow at Swan Barn Farm
Close up of a hedgerow at Swan Barn Farm
Hedgerow at Swan Barn Farm

Traditional techniques practiced at Swan Barn Farm such as hedgelaying make the hedgerows thicker and more attractive to wildlife. Coppiced woodland is important as it recreates the features of young scrub that is so highly valued by nightingales. A series of hazel coupes are coppiced on a rotation which provides continually desirable habitat for many species of wildlife particularly dormice. Coppicing is a traditional method of woodland management where trees are cut near ground level.  New growth emerges as multiple stems, and these were then used in various ways such as charcoal making, fencing and hedging, building materials and firewood.  

Belted Galloway cattle grazing in a field
Belted Galloway cattle grazing in a field at Swan Barn Farm, Surrey
Belted Galloway cattle grazing in a field

The small herd of Belted Galloway cows grazing Swan Barn are not shy of browsing and coppicing the woodier vegetation, encouraging dense regrowth and structural diversity. This type of grazing also benefits wildlife in general as it creates and maintains a patchwork of thicket and grassland which is attractive to many different types of plants and insects.   

Come and explore this beautiful spot for yourself and discover the hidden beauty of Swan Barn Farm on the network of foot paths winding through meadows and woodlands. And if you’re lucky you may also get the rare opportunity to hear the nightingale sing once more in the woodlands….  

" That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees, in some melodious plot, of beechen green, and shadows numberless, singest of summer in full-throated ease."
- John Keats, Ode to a Nightingale