An evening with Harbour Books

Join me and writer Peggy Riley for a glass of prosecco and a chat at Harbour Books in Whitstable this Thursday.

Harbour Books

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A day in the life of an Environmental Consultant – August 2018.

A day in the life of an Environmental Consultant – August 2018.

 

 

Carl demonstrates getting over the humpThe seasons are a changing. The light is more golden, more intense, the dew is wet on the grass in the mornings, cobwebs shimmer on the marshes and lapwing flocks are gathering.

Autumn always signifies a time for new beginnings. The ‘Back to School’ feeling that haunted my summers settles upon me and I feel it is a time of new pencil cases, new exercise books, new projects.

Last month we began planning a new project to look at disturbance to wildlife on the Medway and Swale Estuary caused by personal watercraft, namely hovercrafts and jet skis. At the invitation of Carl Cristina, from the Hovercraft Guild of Great Britain, I took a trip out on the Swale to see the issue of disturbance first hand and understand the perspective of the hovercraft users. Only by talking to the people involved is it possible to begin planning ways of reducing the problem.

Personal watercraft, along with dogs off of leads, are having an impact on the 300,000 birds using the estuary every year. Flushing birds from feeding and breeding areas, if only for a few minutes, lessens the chances of survival. Talking to hovercraft users however revealed a number of practical measures we could take to better inform users and provide training to help people avoid sensitive zones as well as raising awareness of the importance of the estuary for wildlife.

We have now submitted a project proposal to Medway Swale Estuary Partnership and spoken to Medway Council with the intention of seeking funding to implement these changes.
Last month we also met with wildlife photographer Robert Canis to discuss a potential article for BBC Wildlife Magazine about the work of the farmers of North Kent to improve the fortune of lapwings.

Nicole Khan looking at Mr Oylers

Nicole Khan of the RSPB inspect farmland.

Lapwings were also very much on the agenda at a meeting with Nicole Khan of the RSPB when we discussed the increase in breeding pairs on farmland in North Kent and talked about plans for more practical projects which we plan to discuss when we begin our yearly round of farm visits next month.

Lavender Chutney

lavender chutneyThere’s no question about it, autumn is in the air. The starlings are gathering, the blackberry’s are ripening, the nights are drawing in. Free food is dripping from every hedgerow and who am I to ignore my instinctual need to gather this harvest before winter sets in? This week I found a recipe to deal with the mass of lavender that sprouts all over my front garden.

You will need

  • 20 lavender flowers, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of mustard seeds
  • 3 lemons scrubbed and chopped into small pieces
  • salt
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 2 oz sultanas
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • pinch ground allspice
  • sugar to taste
  • white wine vinegar

chop the lemon peel and flesh into small pieces removing the pips and pith. Place in a mixing bowl and sprinkle with salt. cover the lemons with vinegar and leave for 24 hours. Next day place the mixture in a pan and add the rest of the ingredient. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer. The mixture is ready when you can run a wooden spoon down the centre as it does not fill up with vinegar. Remove the cinnamon stick and pour into warm jars. Seal tightly.

This is a spicy and unusual chutney which goes well with meat and cheese.

Birds, Beasts and Hovercrafts.

looking suspicious at Mr C

It is easy to be suspicious about Hovercraft owners but we must work together to protect our wildlife.

Where better to be on a scorching day than out enjoying the coastal scenery of the Swale?

However, concern is growing about the increasing numbers of fast powered watercraft using the water and the affect this is having on our wildlife.

300,000 birds use the estuaries of North Kent during migration and their  survival is entirely dependent on stocking up during daylight hours on the protein rich crustaceans within the river mud. Flushing these birds for a few minutes might not seem much for an individual racing down the river but over time this, along with dogs off leads, has had an impact on the numbers of birds that survive.

It is easy to label everyone spinning along the water as a menace and think the best way to deal with them is to ban the lot but this is unfeasible and impossible to police. Therefore it is better to work with other people who wish to enjoy the beauty of the estuary and find ways to minimise the disturbance.

It was with this intention that I set out on a hovercraft last weekend with Carl Cristina of The Hovercraft Guild of Great Britain. My aim was to see the estuary from the perspective of the hovercraft users and witness first hand the impact it has on wildlife. Carol with Die Another Day

Tucked into my seat like a regal princess we were soon flying along the Swale. The roar of the fan softened by earphones. The hovercrafts undoubtedly have an impact on wildlife, flocks of black tailed godwits took flight at our approach but surprisingly, birds a little further away stayed put. It seemed it was not so much the noise which bothered them, amazingly this disappears a short distance from the craft, but the proximity.

bt godwit being flushed

finding ways to reduce flushing birds is vital for the survival of species.

I pointed out to Carl that the hovercrafts were using the most sensitive area of the river from a wildlife point of view. The point where land becomes water, the soft muddy edge where the birds find the easiest meal. He explained that this was because, if the craft stalled in deeper water, they were harder to get started again. A procedure, which is known in the trade as, “getting over the hump.”

Carl later demonstrated the technique needed to get over the hump but admitted that many hovercraft owners didn’t know how to do it. Further training might therefore be needed.

Carl demonstrates getting over the hump

Carl demonstrates ‘getting over the hump.’

Chatting to the other hovercraft users it was also clear that there was a lack of knowledge about the special nature of the estuary and it’s international importance for wildlife. “They’re all just seagulls, aren’t they?” was one comment.

Hearteningly there was also a desire to learn more. Understand where the most sensitive areas were and when they were best avoided. Several solutions were suggested including colourful markers and waterproof maps.

Following stops at the Harty Ferry Inn for lunch and Leysdown-on-Sea for ice cream we headed back. Carl trying a variety of techniques to see how riding in different ways affected the birds and avoiding a colony of seals hauled out on the sands. At only a short distance, birds stayed put, alert, but not flying off.

There is no doubting the cleverness of the hovercraft and the fun of getting out onto the river and being whipped by salt spray. I am no killjoy when it comes to speed and an adrenalin buzz but it is essential that we all live in harmony with the wildlife we are lucky to live surrounded by and I am hoping this trip is the first step in finding practical solutions which help us all to enjoy the coast benignly.

 

A Day in the life of an Environmental Consultant – June/July 2018

bw stilts 2

Black winged stilt adult and chick. Photo Frank Cacket

The hot weather in June and July coupled with the late spring could have been the reason that this years breeding wader season was longer than every.

Young chicks were still being spotted on farmland well into the month. The weather however also meant that vegetation began to grow rapidly and grass and rush soon were smothering the edges of wetland scrapes. While this didn’t seem to cause problems for birds like redshank it did mean that it was doubly hard to accurately count chicks.

 
Spotting cryptically coloured balls of fluff programmed to lay still at a warning call from the adults is hard enough at the best of the times and when these chicks have long have long grass to hide in  the result is that it is almost impossible to accurately count sites.

Even with this difficulty I can report that numbers of fledged lapwing chicks from North Kent Farms were up again with redshank and yellow wagtail also doing better.

a pair of bw stilts

black winged stilt chicks. Photo Frank Cacket

One pair of chicks in particular caught everyone’s attention. This year a pair of black winged stilts successfully raised two chicks on one of the farms I work on. This is the first time a pair of chicks has fledged outside of a reserve in Britain.

 
For now we intend to keep the name of the farm and farmers a secret as there is a high chance that the birds will return again and there is a need to keep the site (which is on private land) undisturbed. This lack of disturbance throughout the breeding season was well managed by the farmers and, along with the creation of excellent wetland habitat, was the reason these birds did so well.

 
The pair of stilts were tireless in their attempts to drive off potential threats, throwing themselves at buzzards, gulls and the RSPB Senior Conservation Advisor who came to see them. Even with this effort I knew the odds off them successfully fledging both young were slim but as each visit went by and the chicks grew I rooted for the birds to succeed and almost began to feel sick at the thought of them loosing them after watching them work so hard.

 
Finally on the 4th July the birds vanished from the site and the next day adults and chicks were spotted at Oare Marshes. This success is the cherry on the cake of a great breeding season and is a testimony to the excellent work the farmers in North Kent are doing for our waders.

Norfolk Hawker
Also in July I took Martin Thomas of Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership out for a days training in wetland survey work. Martin is now all set to do this years round of surveys for the River Stour Internal Drainage Board. The day revealed both good and bad news.

 
I was saddened to find that one of the most botanically important channels in the drainage district was suffering from phosphate pollution for the first time. This input could cause rapid growth in some species of waterweed to the detriment of others and put some of our rarest wetland plants at risk.

Better news was the Norfolk Hawker dragonfly spotted at Elmstone Stream. This proved to be the first record for this species in this area.getation to hide in the result is that it is almost impossible to accurately count sites.

Britain’s Best Islands in The Guardian

32 towards St Cuthberts Island

copyright – Carol Donaldson

I love islands. I have always found them places where I think clearer, unwind and put my own small world into perspective. Today The Guardian publish my piece on Holy Island in Northumbria, a place I run to when life gets a little tumultuous.

https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2018/jul/28/10-best-uk-small-islands-beaches-summer-holidays-novelists-nature-writers