A Year in the Life of an Environmental Consultant – Update

It has a been a busy few months. So busy in fact that I have only now found the time to write updates on my work as an environmental consultant. For more information please visit my website http://www.caroljdonaldson.co.uk

December 2015 – The weather’s all wrong but the work carries on.

Water vole surveys do not normally take place in December but, with the weather in Kent staying in double figures, water voles were active all month.

This allowed us to survey a section of Bells Drain for the Lower Medway Internal Drainage Board to see if water vole were present and look at options for displacing them when work takes place next year to widen this section of channel.

Ecological assistant, Matt Mordaunt braves the chill on Sheppey marshes

Ecological assistant, Matt Mordaunt braves the chill on Sheppey marshes

Despite the unseasonably mild weather, wading in a channel on marshland close to the Swale Estuary, still proved bitterly cold as Matt Mordaunt, ecological assistant discovered. Raw winds battered across the grassland restoration site and we were grateful for the hospitality of the RSPB warden who provided hot cups of tea.

searching for water vole sign

searching for water vole sign

Water vole were evident in low numbers along the channel and plans will now be drawn up to apply for a Natural England licence to move them, hopefully to a vacant channel on Sheppey.

The rest of this month was busy with visits to farmers across the North Kent Marshes. Working for Natural England, we are sharing the results of this years breeding wader surveys with farmers receiving Higher Level Stewardship options and discussing the best ways to manage their land to encourage more lapwing and redshank to breed.

We have been delighted with the positive and flexible attitude of all the landowners involved in this scheme and will continue to work with them throughout the coming year to get the mix of water and grass just right for these birds.

Wet splashes such as this will be perfect for lapwings in the spring

Wet splashes such as this will be perfect for lapwings in the spring

Working with landowners is of vital importance if we are not to become a country where wildlife only survives on reserves. Much of our wildlife needs large spaces and interconnected habitats in order to maintain viable populations.

Farmers get a poor press when it comes to wildlife and there is still plenty of room for improvement, particularly when it comes to chemical use, but many landowners are discretely doing some wonderful work for wildlife and take genuine joy in seeing creatures return to their land that they remember being abundant in their youth.

November 2015  – Always more to learn

participants in Medway Swale Estuary Partnership Soil and Water workshop.

participants in Medway Swale Estuary Partnership’s Soil and Water workshop.

November began with attending a Soil and Water workshop organised by Medway and Swale Estuary Partnership. Working in ecology involves continuous learning as land use and farming practices change and this workshop gave startling figures on the costs to the farming industry of the loss of soil and chemicals into our waterways.

This new knowledge was put to good use a few days later when we presented a review of six years of survey work to the River Stour (Kent) Internal Drainage Board Annual General Meeting. Members and staff praised the review which included suggestions for ways to continue the excellent commitment the board has shown to improving biodiversity into the future.

peeling off the work area in layers.

peeling off the work area in layers.

More work took place at Whitewall Drain a channel leading off of the River Medway. following the removal of vegetation and potential hibernacula for reptiles and a search for water vole, the site was stripped of vegetation in layers overseen by an ecologist. A dam was put in place to isolate the work site from the rest of the channel and fencing was erected to protect water vole burrows.

Ovendens could then begin the work of installing new penstock structures, which will help control flooding. Investigations are also under way to fix a broken tidal flap, which is allowing tidal water to enter the freshwater channel. finished headwall

Infrastructure projects such as this always look raw to begin with but, once vegetated the structure will soon blend into the channel. During a follow up visit it appeared that the wildlife had already got used to the changes, as grey wagtails and kingfisher were spotted using the structure to hunt from.




A solstice celebration

pagan celebration

Gorsedd priest begins the ceremony


The problem with being a participator in life is you are never quite sure where your participation may lead.

Yesterday I set out on a winters walk with four friends. From Trosley Country Park, we headed for Coldrum Long Barrow along the North Downs Way, catching a glimpse of winter sun and trudging through the lanes, sticky with mud.

winter sunlight North Downs Way

sun worship on the North Downs Way


I was carrying a homemade solstice kit thrown together the previous evening. Whatever your religious leanings, I like the idea of celebrating the solstice. As someone who works outdoors all year I am still in tune with the cycle of the seasons and work with them.

The spring means dawn starts to survey lapwings, the summer is long days on the marshes, autumn is reaping a hedgerow harvest and this winter has been bumping around in a landrover with farmers as geese rise from the estuary edge and flocks of curlew gather in the fields.

As the days grow shorter (if not this year colder) then I feel it, the dying of the old year and look forward to the return of the new. So I am in sympathy with the druids practice of marking the solstice and happy to give it a nod with an offering and a ritual.

However arriving at the stones yesterday afternoon I became swept up in Kent Gorsedd’s solstice celebration. As an array of colourful characters walked out from the village of Trottiscliffe, led by the priest clothed untraditionally, as my friend pointed out, in an array of ‘made in India’ colourful cloaks. Still, wreathed in ivy garlands and carrying hazel staffs entwined with honeysuckle they looked cool.

pagan procession

A procession of pagans to the stones


At the base of the long barrow sat a women sounding a skin drum and, when they called for participants, I was over the fence like a jack rabbit as my friends lingered out of reach.

solstice drummer coldrum longbarrow

The ceremony commenced with offerings to the Guardian Spirit of Coldrum Stones, wafting of incense, holding the hands of two rather handsome druids either side of me and some ritual chanting. So far, so good. However, when the high priest suddenly wielded a claw like scythe in the air, I was all ready for scarpering. I eyed the dog and the chid in the circle as far worthier sacrifices than me but thought it might be a case of, ‘last in, first out!’

However, instead he brandished a big bunch of mistletoe and offered us all to step into the darkness at the centre of the circle and sacrifice something in order to receive the light. The sacrifice was merely our thoughts and in return we received a bit of ‘trickery’ from dark witches and offered a piece of mistletoe. I was game, took my mistletoe, offered my dark thoughts and returned to my place in the circle.

receiving the mistletoe

receiving the mistletoe

The ceremony wound on with folk singing and drumming . I was conscious of my rumbling stomach and my friends waiting on the side lines. I began to feel as I once had when caught in a Catholic service in the Vatican surrounded by nuns, but, once participating, you have to accept you are in for the long haul. It is all very well jumping a fence and saying, “I’ll join,” but maybe you should read the small print first.

joining in the celebration

Suddenly I was being asked to step into the circle and be initiated into the Gorsedd of the Bards of the Coldrum Stones. A few timid looking souls offered themselves up, but blimey, I had only come out for a country walk, I wasn’t about to join a new religion I knew nothing about. I hung back, my desire to participate having reached its limit, at least for today, no one seemed to mind. The new initiates joined hands and offered words of allegiance. It was a nice ceremony and afterwards came the bit I liked best. The feasting on bread and mead, the most tasty, spicy, woodland drink I think I have ever had the delight to sample.

A little more singing, a bit of ritual chanting and the procession wound away. My friends and I conducted our own low key ceremony. writing down something we wished to leave behind in the old year and burning it on the alter stone and then writing on a piece of material something we wished to come to us in the new year. This we tied on the tree overlooking the site hung with offerings. We feasted on peanut butter sandwiches washed down with cherry brandy, we gave a call for peace to the four directions, we walked on.  I felt the year turn.

solstice gang at Long barrow

a merry bunch of walkers at Coldrum Long Barrow, Trottiscliffe, Kent.

A Good Read – John Betjeman’s Collected Poems

thJohn Betjeman’s Collected Poems

I have fallen in love with John Betjeman. It is my usual crush, an unobtainable man (in this case long dead!) with whom I feel a kinship.

In his collected poems, first published in 1958, Betjeman is nostalgic for a vanishing Britain and so am I. I am told that nostalgia is wrong, that we must all embrace sustainable progress into a modern Britain I want no part of.

Instead I am drawn to Betjeman’s world of tennis played on the lawns of country houses and hills lined with elm trees. A less peopled country of winding roads with fewer cars and more detail.

I seek Betjeman’s world on long cycles through wintry lanes, in quiet woods and parish churches. I close my eyes to much of modern Britain and instead seek a country that offers food for the soul, that enriches not erodes.

But in Betjeman I do not find a poet of the past, despite being dead for over twenty years, many of his collected poems come across as surprisingly relevant. He depicts a countryside trashed by pylons and ugly developments and ugly values. A world of nature and depth consumed by plastic and triviality. Betjeman’s poems seem more than relevant in an era where all the little weedy paradises where children once played and learned to love nature are consumed by a tide of cheaply thrown up housing estates which will lock children into their box rooms to stare at computer screens and learn to shop.

Betjeman’s poems have an air of sadness, of knowing the fight against the destruction of all you love in your country is fruitless, it will be destroyed by politicians and planners and developers. As our wild places are gobbled up by housing at an alarming rate then Betjeman is a reminder of what beauty we threw away.