Saturday, 14 May 2011


After much feverish last-minute texting and e-mailing our team was assembled at Paxton Pits Nature Reserve. It was exactly 5.15 am and the weather was perfect; calm, still and clear as could be.

The team comprised of Delia Shannon, John Minnie and Keith Ridout from Aggregate Industries and Dr Ray Matthews (Chairman of the Friends of Paxton Pits Nature Reserve). I was present to act as guide and make the tea. We were all there to meet a crew from the BBC who had been staying nearby in St. Neots overnight to be ready for the early start.

Dean Jones was quick and businesslike; obviously in charge while Jim Blanche, who was festooned with boxes and wires, was busy from the off. A ludicrously big, furry microphone on a stick revealed him to be the sound-man. Methodical Dave Ronnie had a Volvo full of tripods and cameras, so no prizes there. And finally John Craven, who not only looked and sounded familiar but had a manner that made you think that you were picking up a conversation where you had left it yesterday.

We were off to hunt down a nightingale. Not just to hear it, but to capture it forever on film. As simple as that!

I had stood around for the previous hour and only heard one nightingale, a long way off. Although the weather was perfect, Ray and I were a bit worried as we passed three territories with not a peep. I parked my car near one bird that was singing in a half hearted way and he promptly packed up. We decided to push on to our favorite spot where four territories converge as this would give us a better chance of success and, ‘Bingo’, there was our bird, singing his heart out from the middle of a hawthorn. We couldn’t see him but we knew that if we waited he would move, and he did, three times, and always to the middle of another bush.

Leaving the crew with “Mr Bashful” I went in search of a more co-operative songster and found him in an ash tree near our farm-yard. Although I scanned the whole tree through binoculars I still couldn't see him. But then a young man on a bicycle peddled past, casually glanced up and pointed to the tree saying “Nightingale,‘See him?” I sent him back to get the team and the rest of the session went perfectly. That bird sang in the open for something like half an hour while the climbing sun gave him strength. It was John Craven’s first nightingale.

Ray and John (who look like twins) conducted a short piece to camera (several times) about the nightingales at Paxton and it was ‘in the can’ (as we broadcasters say).

Dean wanted a few shots of the sorting plant to illustrate what the Reserve would have looked like immediately after quarrying; the point being that we can create new habitat and wonderful places for people too. But we knew that, didn't we?

You can see the resulting two minutes of Paxton Pits at its best on the Countryfile Programme, on Sunday May 29th. Look out for a clip of John Craven speaking from Priory Park as well.