These little lemon wheat field dancers are always a pleasure to see.
These little lemon wheat field dancers are always a pleasure to see.
Good Morning to the Bird Surveyors
Us crack of dawners
Stumbling from under the duvet with the alarm
Trying not to wake the wife, the lover, the kids, the neighbours.
Bumble headed along country lanes
Flasks of coffee and second breakfast tucked away.
Ours is a society of the solitary
Lone wanderers across the fields.
United by a jumble of survey forms and binocular straps.
Ours is the world of the dawn
Sunrise and curlew calls
Night time predators startled by our arrival.
Ours is the world of the spring
Speeding along so fast we struggle to keep up.
A headlong rush of pairing and production.
Ours is a morning of bird song
Tricky bird song,
Yellow wags and lesser whitethroat. Corn buntings jangling on gate posts.
Ours is a love, more than a love, a vocation.
That drives us from the warmth of slumber
To walk the soggy fields in the early hours while others zoom on motorways to spend the day locked in high rise boxes.
Ours is a mission.
To record it while we can
To witness is while it’s there
To mourn those who won’t arrive this year.
Ours is the morning, Ours is the Sunlight, Ours is the dawning
Good morning to the Bird Surveyors
Spring is waiting for you.
For my latest video diary I head over to Bradwell on Sea in Essex to spend a weekend with the Othona Community. I discovered this place a few years ago and it has become an important place in my life that always leaves me feeling restored.
I walked out of the Saatchi gallery in London yesterday feeling depressed and challenged. I had just walked around an exhibition of photographs by the winners of the Carmignac Photojournalism award. The two photographers Yuri Kozyrev and Kadir Van Lohuizen had travelled the Arctic looking at the causes and effects climate change is bringing to the region.
The Arctic is close to my heart. I worked in a school in the Northwest Territories town of Inuvik in 2003 and travelled with the Inuit across Banks Island. At the time, it was the social issues of the area that struck me most forcibly and to my eyes, the Arctic in Winter was still as you would expect, bone searingly cold and snowy but already there was talk among the indigenous communities of the changes in sea ice and hunting.
This exhibition yesterday gave me a broader view of what’s happening. I stood in front of a photo of a Russian power station, which the caption told me caused the same amount of pollution per year as the whole of France, and wanted to sink to my knees with helplessness.
I saw landscapes poisoned by Nickel mining, vast rivers flowing from glaciers, villages which would soon be underwater. I felt powerless. What could I do to stop that? Do you know, it’s bringing tears to my eyes just thinking of it.
What can I do to stop that?
Helplessness is so…well, unhelpful. It makes you feel that nothing you can do as an individual will make a jot of difference. Please don’t tell me it won’t. I have to think that it can.
Never, never should anyone tell people the horrors of climate change without providing them with a list of things they can do to change it. Give them access to a computer at the end so that they can channel those feeling immediately into action.
But, I am not stupid. Even without this I know what I can do.
I can not, for instance, buy the products of polluting companies. I can not invest my savings in companies that support dirty energy. I can go and protest against Donald Trumps planned visit to the UK.
I could tell you I will never take a flight again and I will go vegan but I’m afraid I would probably be lying. There in lies the difficulty and the challenge. People won’t be forced down routes that rub up too sharply against their pleasures. I like travel, I like cheese and if you make me give these things up, I will resent it.
But I feel challenged enough by these images that I will do something about it. I will do one thing today to try to say no to whatever the dark governments and business of this world would lead us to.
Well done Yuri and Kadir, well done Carmignac. It was a brave and I’m sure at times dangerous assignment. It has made a difference, to me at least and that is what photo journalism should do.
These swallows and sand martins were an unexpected delight on a day of deep murk and fog. Spring felt far away but they were here, freshly arrived from Africa and hawking for flies above the delights of the sewage farm outside of Faversham. Sometimes happiness can be found in the most unlikely of locations.
In March I travelled down to the Pevensey Levels to meet with Martin Hole, a former winner of the RSPB’s Lapwing award. Martin is the lead farmer in a cluster which includes almost 50 farmers who have banded together to manage the land for wetland wildlife.
Through my work in North Kent I see how difficult it is for a farmer to make a difference alone. They might be doing all the right things on their own land but, if they are isolated from other suitably managed land, then, try as they might, the birds may never come.
Along with Martin, I feel that farmers working together to provide landscape scale conservation is the only way we can create a countryside that is resilient to change and able to support wildlife in the long term.
Cluster groups can draw on a facilitation fund provided by Natural England and can organise workshops and surveys to provide the information farmers need to make decisions about land management. My role this spring is to provide surveys for three main areas of the Pevensey Levels which still support lapwing.
Martin is an enthusiastic advocate for the benefits of farmers joining cluster groups, believing working together is the best way forward for the industry and for wildlife. Certainly the land we viewed looked in excellent condition but I was surprised to hear that, despite good management, some species were become locally extinct in the region.
Redshank numbers for instance had plummeted in contrast to North Kent where they had a bumper season last year. Worryingly Martin felt that the boom in numbers of wetland birds in North Kent could be a result of birds contracting to core areas. That, no matter how well the Pevensey Levels are now managed, the damage has already been done. That an historical input of chemicals has left soils poisoned and insect numbers plummeting.
My experience in North Kent is that given the right advice and management then it is possible to turn the fortunes of farmland wildlife around but the experience in Sussex could be the beginning of a worrying trend.
Are the Pevensey Levels the canary in the coalmine which shows how bad things have become for our wildlife?
Still, I do not feel that despair is helpful when it comes to conservation. Despair over the state of our countryside leads to helplessness and I believe there is never a better time than now to start turning things around. The increasingly positive attitude from farmers like Martin to working to manage the land for wildlife is a cause for celebration and, besides, it is spring and I cannot be downhearted at the thought of another spring amid lapwing on the marshes.
Great and much needed day out yesterday with my beloved volunteers. Working with a crack crew of Simon Houstoun and Richard Yarwood, I helped build a rather marvellous kindling box from the tatty remains of old apple bins. It had the kind of patina that money just can’t by, complete with bent nails and bits of dry rot. We thought about selling it in Whitstable high street as a reclaimed retro artwork but decided to gift it to the Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership instead.