A Great Place to visit – Riverside Country Park, Medway.

Many thanks to Cora Polland for our guest blog this month.

HH boat

Riverside Country Park, located alongside the River Medway is a scenic, coastal spot scattered with rustic boats and is a good place for birdwatching. In addition, the area has very interesting historical background dating back to the industrial revolution. The first Portland Cement Factory appeared on the River Medway in 1851, with the secret ingredient for this new cement being Medway mud.

Throughout the 1850s the River Medway was supplying the whole world with Portland cement before similar mud was found elsewhere to produce the cement. Many Medway industries were based on large amounts of local materials and consequently became harder as well as more expensive to find as the materials were used up. During this period of time the workers who dug from the estuary were called ‘muddies’. At high tide barges would sail from Rainham dock into Medway, where the muddies then had the job of climbing over and shovelling slime/mud into the barge, until they floated off to be unloaded after the tide came in again. Great amounts of mud were dug from the river this way therefore meaning there are now deep pits filled with soft mud at the bottom of the river. It was initially feared that the mud extradition might change the flow of water in the river which could cause silting.

HH signpost

Horrid Hill, part of the park, was originally an island however, it was later joined to the mainland by a causeway in order to allow a horse drawn railway to reach the cement works.HH boat 2

From mid-18-19th century there were two types of Hulks in the Medway. Those used for criminals and those used for prisoners of war. This links in to one of the many rumours as to why it is named the ‘Horrid Hill.’ It is thought that convicts, housed on these hulks in the Medway anchored close to Chatham, made an attempt to escape to the land which looked like an island, those who were recaptured were hanged as a warning to others, giving it the name. Other rumours about the origin of the name are that during the Napoleonic War, French Prison Hulks were moored off Horrid Hill and local people could recall hearing the screams of the prisoners and the horrid conditions that they faced. A less gruesome rumour is that the name came from the manure used on the local farms which was dumped at the base of Horrid Hill – creating an unpleasant smell.

Furthermore, during the Great War of 1914-1918 the British Standard Cement Company’s works at Motney Hill lost a large amount of their workforce, therefore after the war a list of those who died was placed on a memorial plaque which is now viewable at the Riverside Country Park’s visitor centre.

The Eastcourt meadows were once a municipal rubbish tip up until the 1950s however it’s since been transformed into a magnificent haven for butterflies and wildflowers. The Riverside Country Park was once a place of hard labour and cement but has since become a place of natural beauty containing wildflowers, pear trees, and during high tide a place where common seals have been spotted.

HH landscape


Out of my mind.

 copyright Mike Ellison

copyright Mike Ellison

Mindfullness may be coming a victim of it’s own success, like yoga and friendship bracelets and fairtrade coffee, once adopted by people who do or have or drink these things just to look cool, to be seen to be doing them, they cease to have their original meaning. So was I just falling into the same trap attending a mindfulness nature walk?

Certainly the meeting place was not conducive to looking cool, the corner of a community football field on a soggy Saturday in Ditton, Kent and the other participants were a healthy mixture of ages and nationalities although, maybe unsurprisingly, they were all women.

Vanessa, the leader was a trained psychologist and had begun running mindfulness sessions for people dealing with chronic pain.

“It doesn’t take away the pain,” she explained. “It focus’s the mind on something else.”

Her practice was based in London but she had begun offering the sessions locally because she wanted to give more people the opportunity to benefit.

Our little group moved from the playing field to Ditton Nature Reserve and stood in a circle as Vanessa chimed a bowl and dog walkers eyed us warily. The rain began, the dog walkers vanished, we stood there focussing on parts of our bodies, considering how each area felt and what it was doing. After a few seconds I stopped feeling like a weirdo and zoned in.

Vanessa encouraged us to listen to the raindrops, to each raindrop, to the space between the sound of each raindrop and suddenly, standing in the rain with a bunch of women I’d just met, wasn’t crackers but an amazing experience making you want to shout out to the bored teenagers and the fleeing dog walkers.

“Hey come over here and listen to the sound between each rain drop. It’s like, amazing.”

Luckily I restrained myself.

After a few minutes I felt on a different plane of relaxation and was sorry to hear the chime signalling that the session was over.

We took a walk around the reserve, a silent, meditation walk, stopping when we wanted to look at the colour and smell the wet earth and listen to the sounds of birds.

Having knowledge of the countryside can sometimes be a double edged sword. It is hard to switch off, to stop thinking, ‘oh, wild service tree, I wonder if that’s been planted’ or ‘solitary wasp burrows, I wonder what species.’ I eye everything with one eye on a management plan and a volunteer task, now I stopped. I looked at things in the abstract, the shape of branches, the springiness of the turf, the eye popping red of a rose hip. It was like stepping back, like seeing nature for the first time.

Suddenly I didn’t care whether mindfulness was trendy or weird or what anyone thought of me. As I stood in the rain transfixed by rosehips, I was fully appreciative and grateful for that moment. I was out of my head and that could only be a good thing.

The Holy Trinity


3 long tall CarolI realised three things today. One, you should not wander Holy Island lost in your own head. I had walked all the way across North Beach lost in my own thoughts, caught up in an internal world that was not there in front of me and then I rounded the corner and a bird flew in from the sea. I looked up. It was an owl. I laughed out loud. I am always being sent owls. J K Rowling knew what she was on about, they are messengers. The most beautiful day on Holy Island and I was lost in my own head, clearly I was crazy.

The second thing I realised is that it is not easy to take a photo of yourself doing a cartwheel. Cove Bay was deserted, I raced up the beach and cartwheeled back. Why? Well Why not? I only learnt how to do a cartwheel last year and have to practice every attempt I get. The seals in the bay swam in to watch and sang to me, lamenting my obvious weirdness.

13 cartwheel 15 Cartwheel 14 Cartwheel 17 Cartwheel













The third thing is that tourists are, for the main, an unadventurous, herd driven species. I had watched thousands of them descend on the island that morning but where were they now? Thankfully, elsewhere, buying mead and visiting the castle but not on the beach where it was just me and the seals and an owl hunting the dunes.

Short Eared Owl, Holy Island.

Short Eared Owl, Holy Island.

Happiness is……..a buzzard flying over my house.

buzzard Walter Baxter

Walter Baxter

Just had a buzzard fly over my house, in the middle of urban Medway. It circled above on a rising thermal, hunting for what, I do not know.

I wanted to shout out across the gardens.

“Look, a buzzard, the wild is back in town.”

but restrained myself knowing that the neighbours already find my antics strange enough.

A year in the life of an envrionmental consultant


Just what does an environmental consultant do all year? Before I set up my own business I wasn’t so sure but, twelve very busy months later and I think I can tell you. We have run community work parties, written river restoration reports and catchment plans, spent many dawn mornings on the marshes surveying waders, searched for water voles, advised on wetland management and completed a major review for the Internal Drainage Board. We now have a few weeks to take a deep breath and prepare for the year ahead.

So, if you ever fancied setting up as a consultant then follow my year ahead and see just how it is done.

September 2015

September is the end of the survey season, time to consolidate all those records and prepare for the autumn ahead.

September has been our busiest month so far. It began by meeting Natural England to talk over plans for farming advisory visits, which we are set to undertake over the next few months. We had spent the spring counting lapwings and redshanks at farms across the North Kent Marshes. In April the fields were full of plummeting and wheeling birds but as spring turned to summer and the grass grew, the numbers of waders fell and the birds failed to breed.

lapwing ruffling feathersBreeding waders need two things, water and short grass, get this equation right and numbers will grow. Following years of catastrophic decline for lapwings and redshanks we need to turn things around and, on the grazing marshes of North Kent, we have a real chance to do that. Over the next few months we will be visiting landowners, walking the fields and coming up with management plans to ensure that, next year, these birds arrive, and stay and successfully breed.

As the month moved on we turned out attention to creating work sheets for the River Stour Internal Drainage Board. These sheets are based on the extensive survey of watercourses we undertook in the summer and tell Rhino Plant, the boards main contractor, how we would like them to cut the ditches. It also highlights where there are opportunities to enhance the channels for wildlife and where there are potential problems in the form of invasive species and high nitrate and phosphate pollution. 20150520-0002

This year marks the end of six years of survey work and we were commissioned by Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership to undertake a review of the River Stour Internal Drainage Board Biodiversity Action Plan. Things have changed significantly since the creation of the original BAP in 2010. Changes in Government policy have swept away national targets for important species which makes commitment to local plans all the more necessary.

Thankfully the Stour IDB is committed to improving biodiversity across the drainage district and we have created a programme of work to be considered by the board which will ensure the continuing health of drainage channels, which form a lifeline for wildlife across the region.

If this work didn’t keep us busy enough we also abseiled into a drainage channel on behalf of Medway Council to search for water vole signs and deconstructed a potential reptile hibernaculum to ensure no common lizards were injured when flood prevention work begins on the channel this autumn. It should be noted that translocating wildlife is work we only undertake if the scheme will have overall benefit for wildlife or improve habitat quality.

clearing vegetation at Whitewall Drain

clearing vegetation at Whitewall Drain

search for water vole signs

search for water vole signs

Clearing a habitat pile.

Clearing a habitat pile.

With so much intensive work taking place we needed to take time out of the office and reconnect with wildlife. Andrew Wilkinson of Kent Wildlife Trust kindly arranged an evening tour of Ham Fen reserve in search of beavers. We enjoyed a beautiful evening on the reserve but sadly the beavers failed to make an appearance. Still it gives us an excuse to return next year.

They were there......somewhere! Beaver chewed log at Ham Fen

They were there……somewhere! Beaver chewed log at Ham Fen.

Want to see more monthly updates and find out about my consultancy? Then visit the website www.caroljdonaldson.co.uk