What better way to spend a beautiful May evening than by joining a gang of jolly volunteers to salvage unharvested food which would otherwise go to waste and donate them to worthy causes across Kent?
Under the Wye downs I joined a gang of about 40 people of all ages from Gleaning Kent to harvest leeks at Ripple Farm Organics. The leeks were about to set seed and therefore a tad too tough to go into the veg boxes but were still fine to be eaten.
Over a few hours we pulled and trimmed and bagged leaks, wielding a giant machete to hack away the leaves and eventually we have salvaged 1240kg of veg which would have otherwise gone to waste. The vegetables were distributed to a number of charities who run meal clubs for kids and adults who might not otherwise get a decent dinner.
Me and lovely agent Joanna Swainson discuss my book at St Mary’s, Lower Higham during last year’s launch – photo Ralph Connolly
June sees the launch of On the Marshes in paperback and to celebrate I am returning to the beautiful church of St Mary’s in Lower Higham where I slept on the last night of my walk across the marshes. The event is on the 9th June at 6.00pm Tickets for this event are £6 but there is no need to book you can just turn up on the night. There will be a licensed bar and snacks available to buy on the night.
On the 21st June I travel to Kirkdale Books, the oldest independent bookshop in South East London, to talk about On the Marshes and sign books. More details to follow from the bookshop website.
“It is ironic that we have made wildlife refuges for ibis, pelican, egret, wolf, crane, deer, mouse, moose and bear but not for ourselves in the places where we live day after day. We understand that the loss of habitat is the most disastrous event that can occur to a free creature. We point out how other creatures natural territories have become surrounded by cities, ranches, highways, noise and other dissonance as though we are not surrounded by the same as though we are not affected also.”
Women that run with the Wolves – Clarissa Pinkola Estes.
More reasons why we need to protect the green pockets of land within our cities and the scrubby patches on the outskirts from development. We all need a place to escape from urban life.
It is the last day of April and the country is being deluged with rain. Six weeks worth is due to fall in one day, the Met office tells me.
However, we have also seen some beautiful spring weather this month. The season seems to have accelerated with blossom and bluebells coming all at once.
At the beginning of April I spent two days with volunteers from the Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership overseeing the creation of new berms at Port Rill, a drainage channel managed by the River Stour Internal Drainage Board. The weather could not have been more of a contrast, the first day we spent in hot sunshine, the second in icy winds but whatever the temperature the volunteers did an excellent job at installing woody debris.
The work done by the volunteers last spring is beginning to show results with parts of the channel re-naturalising, creating meanders and fast flowing sections. Years of silt are being scoured away to reveal underlying gravels. New wetland plants have established themselves on the berms and there were plenty of frogs enjoying the re-energised channel when we visited.
The second half of the month was crammed with breeding wader surveys and I saw many beautiful sunrises over the marshes.
Over the autumn, North Kent farmers have been busy creating new scrapes and rills and altering drainage systems. The winter rains have filled these new features and the result is more waders than ever before breeding on North Kent farms.
As figures stand at the moment we have an extra 15 pairs of lapwing breeding on the farms than this time last year. That is surely something to celebrate and pulls me out of bed each morning when that 5am alarm goes off.
These great results are a real testimony to the benefits of giving tailored advice and building long term relationships with landowners. The farmers I work with really want to see more birds on the land but have to make a decent living at the same time.
Good subsidies for creating wildlife rich landscapes backed up by strong legal powers for those that damage the environment are all important if we are to create healthy farmland and river systems which benefit both wildlife and people.
I’m watching the birds but who’s watching me?
Another day, another bird survey but this morning it felt different. Yesterday, while undertaking a survey on a remote site with no public access, I had been watched through a telescope by a local birder. He took photos of me with a long lens and posted them on Twitter in the misguided belief I was doing my job incorrectly.
Of course I was upset by his attempt to discredit me but more than that I felt invaded. It made me feel vulnerable in a way that the isolation and the herds of cows and the occasional meeting with a shepherd or a gamekeeper never does.
People often ask me if I feel scared being in the countryside early in the morning on my own and I say truthfully that I never do. It is because to me the solitude is sanctuary and the occasional lone man I meet stops to have a friendly chat.
Now I feel watched, spied upon by a man with angry thoughts running through his head. I worry about the photos he took knowing that, a few minutes before he took the photo he had posted on twitter, I had pulled down my trousers and had a wee in the long grass. Did he take a photo of that too?
I sympathise with the desire to collect evidence to right some perceived wrong. I once took photos of an ecologist collecting dead lizards from a site after the bulldozers had been on but I took the photos openly and presented them to the local wildlife crime officer not posted them on social media for the person to be publicly tried without jury.
This morning out on another site at 6am I felt different. I wondered where he was, this man with his camera. Hiding behind a bush? Papping me from the windows of the Sheerness train? Watching me from a parked car? I crossed my legs when nature called and walked on, my solitude and privacy gone.
Many thanks to Inspiral London for inviting me to take part in their night walking event on the Hoo Peninsula. Enjoyed talking to an interesting and very politically aware audience on the LV21