For singing till his heaven fills, ’T is love of earth that he instils, And ever winging up and up, Our valley is his golden cup, And he the wine which overflows To lift us with him as he goes:

Box Hill and The Lark Ascending

My walk on Box Hill the other day was lovely. The sun was shining and the slope alive with butterflies. But I felt that something was missing. There was no skylark song.

I recommend you listen to this YouTube video while reading the rest of this post. You’ll thank me for it!

Skylarks are plain-looking brown birds, smaller and duller to the eye than starlings. But to hear them sing is to have your ear filled with molten silver, and your thoughts lifted to the heavens.

Patrik Åberg, XC27004. Accessible at
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0

Skylarks are ground nesting birds, found mostly in farmland. A few years ago we visited Lundy, which seemed to be bursting with skylarks. Elsewhere in Britain skylarks are a rarer sight. Their numbers halved in the 1990s, and continue to decline.

The main reasons behind the plummet in skylark numbers seems to be changes in farming practices. The move from spring to winter sowing of crops, overgrazing and a shift from hay making to silage have dramatically reduced the habitat available for skylarks to breed in.

I missed skylarks on Box Hill because it felt like the right sort of habitat for them. But I think there was also a sub-conscious expectation that there would be skylarks there, because of its links to skylarks in poetry and literature.

The 19th century writer George Meredith lived on Box Hill, and wrote the poem The Lark Ascending that inspired one of my favourite pieces of English music, by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Vaughan Williams lived in Dorking, the town Box Hill protects and shelters. His The Lark Ascending is said to describe the English landscape in musical form, as well as capturing something of the soaring beauty of the lark’s song. While I love this piece, I hope it isn’t the closest our next generation gets to hearing skylarks.


5 thoughts on “Box Hill and The Lark Ascending”

  1. Loved the recording. I can remember the day that I first discovered Skylarks. I had just seen the film “Kes” that would make me about thirteen and I had just started learning about birds. So I went out looking for a Kestrel. I was looking for a smallish bird hovering over farmland and I soon found one. I loved the way they sang so sweetly and then suddenly stopped and plummeted down out of the sky towards their prey. I can remember cycling home and wondering to myself,”why are there so many Kestrels in the sky?” 🙂 🙂 🙂

  2. And by some coincidence I’ve just made reference to Skylarks in your previous posting about Box Hill and similar habitat types. Ground-nesters are in serious trouble and one of the best ways to boost their chances is by manipulating the balance between prey and predator in their favour. It’s been scientifically proven on countless occasions but unfortunately deemed unacceptable by the vast majority of the general public.

    1. Is there any evidence on the importance of predators vs habitat loss through changes in farming practices for the decline in ground-nesting farmland birds like the skylark?

      Both the BTO and RSPB suggest it’s changes in habitat rather than predators that have caused the skylark to decline. There’s not much point trying to implement an unpopular cull of other wildlife if the real problem is nowhere safe to nest… (Not that I’m against all culls of wildlife, as you may have picked up from other posts).

      1. Every conservation conundrum is challenged by those whom accept the findings of specific scientific findings and those that don’t. As we (humankind) argue over what is right and what is wrong for said species, the decline of the specialists will continue unabated. In my view, a holistic approach is needed and we also know that collaboration works well, when it comes to effective conservation. I’m not so aware of the Skylark’s exact predicament but much scientific evidence could be brought together to truly make a difference for that species, I am sure of that. The Bird Atlas stated how nigh on nearly every species had a tale to tell in the intervening period of the two Atlases. That indicates to me that the same can almost be certainly said for a whole lot more of our wildlife too.

        Best Wishes


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