Many thanks to Countryfile magazine for picking On the Marshes as one of their great summer reads. Read the review here
Not content with destroying our wildlife rich brownfield sites and scrublands, developers are now after our community woodlands. A company called Gleeson Strategic Land Limited is proposing a development of 121 houses on Bloors Lane Community Woodland an important site for wildlife and local people.
If developments like this are allowed to go ahead then it will green light a raft of proposals to develop local nature reserves and country parks.
The company claim the woodland is under used. Under used by who? It is a valuable resource for hedgehogs, field voles and woodland birds struggling to survive as our countryside and their routes through it are swallowed up by concrete.
Medway Council should do the right thing and stop this proposal before it even has the chance to get started.
This month I am interviewed by Countryside Voice, the magazine for CPRE. Sorry about the fuzzy screenshot, we all know I am hopeless with technology.
Another crackingly busy month kicked off with surveying a ditch called Butterfly Cottage Dyke for the Internal Drainage Board.
A blisteringly hot day saw me putting the previous month’s Natural England training to
good use by identifying the many species of rushes and sedges that grown along this botanically rich channel. The waterway supports rare plants such as Tubular Water Dropwort and Hairlike Pondweed. My work involves advising the Drainage Board on how to manage the channel to benefit these and other species and look at ways of improving its value for wildlife.
Unfortunately many of our waterways suffer from Nitrate and Phosphate pollution often caused by historically overloading the land with fertilisers. Agrochemicals are big business and firms have lobbied farmers for fifty years to buy them in order to achieve higher yields and cut down on ‘pest’ species. Often land is overburdened with chemicals and much ends up seeping through the soil and fertilising rivers and drainage ditches which then sprout lush growths of plants such as watercress which can impede flow and cause flooding.
Over 8 years of surveying for the board I have also seen a change in land use with formerly grazed fields becoming fallow or cut for silage and more maize being grown. These changes are not good news for wildlife. Ditches alongside grazing marsh are often botanically rich as the action of animals grazing the channel opens up niches for wildlife while maize crops are often bad news next to rivers as after harvesting, the field is left with bare earth which can be washed into rivers in winter storms creating siltation issues which can lead to flooding.
Despite years of environmental subsidy schemes for farmers it seems that more needs to be done to tailor advise to farmers and put a healthy and wildlife rich countryside at the centre of farming policy not just tinker at the edges of farms and ignore the real issues.
However, the Internal Drainage Board are working to improve watercourses and this month I returned to Port Rill with volunteers from the Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership to finish installing woody debris in the channel. Fallen dead branches were pinned into place by the volunteers and should help create shallow marginal shelves along the edges of the channel while creating faster flow in the centre, cleaning gravels and creating oxygen rich water. This month we saw fish in this channel for the first time, a real testament to the volunteer’s efforts.
A month of river work finished with a survey of Pig Brook, another IDB managed channel which holds one of the last populations of White Clawed Crayfish. This native species is suffering through the spread of Crayfish plague spread from imported signal crayfish as well as pollution and silt covered gravels.
Earlier in the month I had given a talk to the drainage board’s contractors Rhino Plant on the importance of biosecurity and the need to check clean and dry equipment and spray with a specialised Iodine based spray when working on crayfish channels.
Pig Brook is an attractive channel set in parkland but more could be done to improve the stream for crayfish and connect it with the surrounding floodplain. Next month I hope to work on plans to enhance the river and allow the crayfish to thrive.
Better late than never. Here are a few photos of Ros Coward and I at Wealden Literary Festival, where we were delighted to get to do our double act in the Garden Tent.
Took a walk on the left bank of the Thames today with Anna Falcini, an artist who wished to interview me for her PHD project. Unfortunately somewhere outside of Tilbury the battery on her tape recorder packed up and the rain set in. Still for me it is was great to revisit Essex a place I am still deeply fond of and loyal to.
As a young women I would hop on my bike and explore the Essex Coast. Drawn to the areas on the map that looked wild and unexplored. I would cycle past the bandit country of Ferry Lane, an industrial site where the words, ‘Health and Safety’ didn’t apply, past the mass traveller site on the river and through old army training grounds littered with unexploded ordnance. Anna points out that this was a slightly strange way for a 16 year old girl to spend her weekends. I guess it was.
As I discovered today, outside of Tilbury is still a world of landfill sites, gypsy ponies and dirty industry but I like Essex in all it’s cocky, in your face, entrepreneurial spirit. It was great to visit places that I usually only saw from across the river, the former radar tower, like something out of a George Orwell novel, the fairy land of Thamesport. The river here is more blighted, less palatable but somehow, less tamed.
As the rain became heavier we headed back inland to the station. As a young women on her bike I was drawn to the shores of the Thames. It was a place out of site of authority, a place of solitude and nature and derelict barges. It was a place where I could sit on a broken jetty, be bothered by no one and write. I was drawn to that sense that here, on the shores of the river was the edge of something, the edge of the known world, the edge of parental control, the edge of the man made world. The river draws me to it still.
Painted lady, Peacock, Holly Blue, Gatekeeper, Small Tortoishell and Cabbage White enjoying the flowers while a skimmer dragonfly and dunnock forage in the shrubbery.